California’s legal pot industry is just now starting to get off the ground and communities statewide are still scrambling to sort out the rules for it. However, the key for success, according to some, just might lie in one of the state’s most remote counties, the decades-long epicenter of weed cultivation, better known as Humboldt County.
“We build more redwood fencing than anywhere else in the world,” said Rex Bohn, Humboldt County Supervisor. “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.” His district is home to some of the biggest and oldest cannabis farms in California.
Many of these sites were once operating illegally, some at least within the “gray market,” where they were happily growing so-called “medical” weed. Now, the county most famous for putting ganja on the map is attempting to define the rules of the legal industry. “We are building an airplane as we are flying it,” Bohn explained with metaphorical emphasis.
Back in 2016, Humboldt County became the very first in the state to approve land use rules for regulating sites cultivating medical marijuana. However, earlier this year, when the legalization of recreational weed came into effect on New Year’s Day, those existing rules suddenly became a great deal more complicated.
Fortuna, a small city with a population of little more than 12,000 folks, calls itself “The Friendly City,” unless you want to cultivate cannabis, that is. Residents see weed “as something that impacts the use and enjoyment of their property,” explained Merritt Perry, Interim City Manager. “They do not want to be around it, they do not want to smell it, and they think it might impact their property values.”
The city prohibits all marijuana businesses within its city limits. However, cultivators may grow unhindered on county land on the outskirts of Fortuna. Brian Robinson is one of those growers. He was exactly what the county wanted, a weed cultivator who had grown his crops well-hidden for years in nearby hills, but was willing now to legitimize the industry by moving his operation into the open.
Despite being on county land, where growing is legal, he still had neighbors to contend with, and they did not want a cannabis farm in their backyard. Robinson fought lawsuits for two solid years. “It has been really tough,” he said. “I do have two kids and a wife and we have really struggled in trying to make everything meet.” He eventually sold and bought land 20 acres farther away.
He is not the only one. At least a dozen other weed businesses on the outskirts of Fortuna will also have to sell up and relocate. This is because the Humboldt County Supervisors tightened regulations back in May, approving a new plan named Cannabis 2.0. It limits the areas where cultivators can grow, and it caps the number of licenses the county can issue. It also gives businesses two years at most to relocate.
Understandably, weed advocates are unhappy about this. “Do I believe that the current policy is a wonderful fix to a big problem? Absolutely not,” exclaimed Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance. “It is a Band-Aid and we will see how hard it rips off.” County Supervisors think Cannabis 2.0 incomplete. Bohn said, “I think there is going to be a 3.0 and a 4.0”