New regulations force some Humboldt County marijuana growers to relocate

ByKen Miguel and Reggie Aqui via KGO logo
Monday, July 16, 2018
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Existing land use rules when it came to medical marijuana have become more complicated now that weed is recreationally legal.

FORTUNA, Calif. (KGO) -- The legal cannabis industry is just getting off the ground and communities across California are still trying to sort out the rules. One of the state's most remote counties may hold the key to success.

It's been the epicenter of pot growing for decades: Humboldt County.

"We build more redwood fencing than anywhere else in the world," said Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn. "Nobody ever tells me we have great fences, but they all want to know about the marijuana industry because so much has been made of it."

Bohn's district is home to some of the state's oldest and largest pot farms. Many used to operate illegally, or in the "gray market" growing "medical" weed. Now the county that put weed on the map is trying to define the rules of the legal market.

"We are building an airplane as we are flying it," Bohn said.

RELATED: Humboldt marijuana growers tighten belts for legalization

Humboldt County was the first in the state to pass land use rules regulating cannabis grows of medical marijuana in 2016. But those existing rules became more complicated when legalized recreational cannabis started hitting the market this year.

Fortuna, a city of just over 12,000 people, bills itself as "the friendly city" -- unless you want to grow weed.

Fortuna's residents see marijuana "as something that impacts the use and enjoyment of their property," explained Interim City Manager Merritt Perry. "They don't want to be around it, they don't want to smell it, they also think it might impact their property values."

The city banned all cannabis businesses within city limits. But growers are allowed to grow on county land outside of Fortuna. One of those growers was Brian Robinson.

He was just what the county wanted, a cannabis cultivator who had grown his crop hidden in the nearby hills for years, but was now willing to move his operation into the open to help legitimize the industry.

RELATED: 'Fire sales' at Bay Area cannabis dispensaries ahead of July 1 rule change

Even though he was on county land, he still had neighbors. And they didn't want a pot farm in their backyard. Robinson spent two years fighting lawsuits.

"It's been really tough," Robinson said. "I do have two kids and a wife and we've really struggled in trying to make everything meet."

He eventually sold that property and purchased 20 acres farther away.

And he's not alone. There are at least a dozen other businesses near Fortuna that will also have to move.

That's because in May, the Humboldt County Supervisors streamlined regulations, passing a new plan called Cannabis 2.0

It sets limits on where grows can operate, puts a cap on the number of permits the county can issue, and gives businesses 18 to 24 months to relocate.

Pot advocates aren't happy.

"Do I believe that the current policy is a wonderful fix to a big problem? Absolutely not," said Terra Carver, the executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance. "It's a Band-Aid and we'll see how hard it rips off."

County Supervisors don't think the Cannabis 2.0 plan is the final answer.

"I think there's going to be a 3.0 and 4.0," Bohn said.

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