Humboldt County Voters Reject Weed Cultivation Regulation Initiative

Humboldt County Voters Reject Weed Cultivation Regulation Initiative

Voters in Humboldt County last week soundly rejected a ballot measure that would have tightened regulations on the area’s famed cannabis industry. Known as Measure A, the initiative was defeated at the polls on March 5, with more than 73% of the voters casting their ballot against the proposal.

Genine Coleman, the executive director of Origins Council, a group representing California’s legacy cannabis growers, wrote in an email to High Times that the “defeat of Measure A demonstrates that the grassroots cannabis industry in Humboldt County is politically organized and effective, thanks to the Humboldt County Growers Alliance and their successful ‘No on A Campaign.’”

Had it passed, Measure A would have changed Humboldt County’s regulations for cannabis cultivation in a manner that opponents of the initiative say would have likely destroyed the local industry. The proposal was created and advanced by Mark Thurmond and Elizabeth Watson, residents of Kneeland, an unincorporated community in Humboldt County, the epicenter of California’s infamous Emerald Triangle cannabis cultivation region.

Measure A would have added several restrictions on cannabis cultivation businesses to the county’s planning regulations, ostensibly for environmental purposes. New rules would have included a cap on the size of weed farms at 10,000 square feet, a change that would have made more than 400 cultivators noncompliant with county regulations, according to a report from MJBizDaily. The ballot measure also would have prohibited noncompliant businesses from expanding their operations, including increasing water or energy use or expanding the space or buildings used for cannabis cultivation.

Additionally, the defeated ballot measure would have required public hearings for cannabis cultivation operations exceeding 3,000 square feet. The proposal also would have restricted weed farms located on two-way roads designed to accommodate traffic traveling at speeds of 25 to 40 miles per hour.

Measure A was fiercely opposed by many members of Humboldt County’s cannabis community, who feared that passage of the initiative could cripple the local cultivation industry. Some referred to the proposal as the “Karen Initiative” because a group of neighbors began work on the ballot measure after a cannabis grower set up a new operation in their community.

The voters’ rejection of Measure A at the ballot box was welcome news for Humboldt County’s cannabis community. Dylan Mattole, a cannabis farmer and chairman of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance (HCGA), said that the members of the trade group were encouraged by the results of the election.

“There’s a feeling of relief from knowing that our community accepts us and that we’re not going to have to keep fighting for the right to do business,” Mattole told SFGATE.

Mattole said that cannabis businesses spent $150,000 on the campaign to defeat Measure A. Although the fight against the initiative was an ordeal, he cited bringing the cannabis community together as a positive outcome of the situation.

“I feel like we’ve really advanced our standing in the community through this terrible situation,” Mattole said. “The silver lining in all this is that I think we actually advanced … the normalization of cannabis as just part of the normal business community.”

Watson, one of the lead proponents of Measure A, said that the results of last week’s election were not unexpected. The initiative was widely opposed by members of the community, including Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal, three of five county supervisors and city and tribal leaders, as well as the Republican, Democratic and Green political parties. Environmental groups including Cannabis for Conservation also registered their opposition to the ballot proposal.

“When the environmental organizations and all the elected officials came out against it, that was pretty much the kiss of death,” Watson told the Times-Standard.

Watson said that she spent a quarter of her life savings on the campaign to pass Measure A. However, it was not enough to overcome the resources mustered by the campaign to defeat the initiative.

“We were just totally outgunned financially and did the best we could,” she said.

“I’m 76, you can’t take it with you,” she added, saying that she would probably have donated a similar amount of money to environmental groups.

As the defeat of Measure A became apparent on election day, opponents of the initiative also said they were not surprised by the results.

“We were definitely seeing a lot of support leading up to the election. So I think we felt pretty confident going into it,” said Ross Gordon, policy director for the HGCA. “But, of course, we didn’t know until we knew, and so I wouldn’t say it was shocking, but I think we were definitely happy to see that number.” 

Gordon acknowledged that cannabis regulations should be reviewed continually. But he added that the process should be a collaborative effort that includes members of the cannabis industry.

“I think it’s been really unfortunate that for the past year or so, we’ve really had to focus on just maintaining the status quo,” said Gordon. “And I don’t think the status quo for small farmers is amazing right now. And I really think we need to be working on more hopeful affirmative projects,” he said, noting the organization’s support of AB 1111, a state Assembly bill that would allow small cultivation businesses to sell cannabis at events.

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