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The real impacts of the Measure A

Evades Public Process

Humboldt county supervisors

In 2016 and 2018, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors passed two separate land use ordinances and completed environmental review under CEQA to regulate and mitigate environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation in Humboldt County. These ordinances and environmental analysis were developed through hundreds of hours of public input from people in every corner of the county - including cannabis cultivators, environmental groups, and neighborhood groups - as well as the county and state officials who would be responsible for implementing the program.

Measure A (formerly know as the HCRI), by contrast, was written behind closed doors by a San Francisco law firm hired by a small group of residents, with no opportunity for review or input from the public before it was submitted in final form on March 4, 2022, at which point it could no longer legally be changed. The initiative's 38 pages contain a range of dense, technical, and highly impactful language which was never subject to public input.

If Measure A were to pass, the Board of Supervisors would be further restricted from amending Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances, preventing the ordinance from being further amended in response to public input or changes to state or federal cannabis policy.

Targets Small Cannabis Farmers

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The vast majority of the provisions in Measure A would restrict all legal cannabis cultivation in Humboldt, regardless of size, and regardless of whether operations are existing or new. Measure A includes no provisions that would support or incentivize small-scale cannabis agriculture, only additional restrictions and red tape.

Many of the restrictions in Measure A are structured as poison pills that would be impossible for small cultivators to comply with. For example, Section CC-P13 of the initiative would require farmers to be located on “category 4” roads, which hundreds of existing farmers are not; local engineers estimate the cost of these upgrades at $200,000-$250,000 per mile, a cost which is only accessible for the largest of farms.

As another critical example, Measure A restricts “expansion” but defines this term so broadly as to include “any increase in the number or size of any structure used in connection with cultivation.” The result is that small, working farms would be prevented from adding new and improved structures to their farm, many of which would double as both environmental improvements and structures that retain on-farm value for craft, high-quality products. Examples include building a new drying shed, nursery room, clone room, ADA-compliant bathroom, employee housing, water storage, or solar infrastructure.

Similarly, Measure A’s prohibition on “multiple permits” would prevent farmers from obtaining permits for ancillary activities, such as nurseries or processing, that enable them to compete based on craft and quality rather than scale.

Like farmers in any other sector of agriculture, cannabis farmers need the flexibility to make improvements on their farms, modernize infrastructure, and adapt to environmental and market conditions. Measure A would severely restrict, and in some cases outright prohibit, this needed flexibility.

Undermines Environmental Goals

Solar Area

Nothing in Measure A would affect environmentally destructive unlicensed cultivation. Instead, Measure A’s restrictions are only applicable to legal and permitted cannabis cultivators who are already subject to extensive environmental regulation through the county, CDFW, the Water Board, and the Department of Cannabis Control.  

By making legal cultivation not viable in Humboldt, Measure A would interrupt the environmental improvements that these farms are required to make under regulation - including improvements related to roads, power sources, buildings, culverts, fire resilience, and forest stewardship - and remove incentives for environmental improvements on rural properties.  

At the same time, the poor drafting of Measure A would restrict or prohibit environmental improvements by farms which remain in the legal market. By defining “expansion” to include “any increase in the number or size of any structure used in connection with cultivation,” and restricting these expansions, the HCRI would restrict the installation of environmental improvements such as water storage, solar arrays, and other structures for environmental improvement.

While Measure A proponents have at times claimed it is not their “intent” to restrict water storage, this restriction is plainly stated in the wording of the initiative. Further, the proponents have conceded elsewhere that water storage may be considered expansion: for example, their website currently states that “adding new water tanks might be interpreted as an expansion and might require modification of an existing permit.”  

Prior to qualifying the initiative to the ballot, Measure A proponents directly criticized water storage due to concerns that it would interrupt their local viewshed. In an October 22, 2021 op-ed in the Eureka Times-Standard, one of the Measure A's primary proponents complained that, if a local Kneeland cultivation project were to move forward, “panoramic views would be replaced by a sea of water tanks.”

A petition to stop this same cultivation project in Kneeland similarly complained about impacts to “adversely affected property owners, who will suffer from this water catchment impound, visual blight, [and] increased aggressive traffic.”

The record of advocacy by Measure A proponents reflects a concern with any cannabis cultivation in their neighborhood, not with large-scale or environmentally destructive cultivation in particular. Consequently, the text of the Measure A is written primarily in opposition to legal cannabis cultivation broadly, not to large-scale or environmentally problematic cultivation specifically.

Cuts the Public Out, Invites Lawyers In

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Measure A would establish 38 pages of complex and often vague new law, restrict the Board of Supervisors from amending these laws, and add extensive General Plan language that requires all other aspects Humboldt County Code to be further amended within very narrow boundaries established by the initiative.

The net effect of these changes would be to exclude the public almost entirely from involvement in the county's cannabis policies. Attempts to amend to Humboldt's cannabis ordinances, or contested interpretations for how the initiative's text should be implemented, would be potential grounds for litigation.

Disagreements over the interpretation of the initiative, and the permissibility of amending its provisions, have already resulted in substantial conflict, including a 27 page county analysis and two private attorney letters collectively spanning an additional 26 pages.

Should the initiative pass, there is no reason to believe that these disagreements would subside. Regardless of how the county interprets the initiative in implementation, stakeholders within the county - whether neighbors, cannabis farmers, environmental groups, or other members of the public - will be incentivized to interpret the initiative differently, and seek to resolve these differences through litigation - putting the county, and taxpayers, on the hook for the initiative's poor drafting.