Council adopts cannabis standards – November 25, 2008
ARCATA – When the new medical marijuana land use
standards go into effect Dec. 19, Arcata’s many cannabis patients will have
simple, legal options for meeting their medicine needs. And neighborhoods
blighted by grow houses will have options, too.
With a doctor’s recommendation, patients with a
green thumb – or a caregiver with the knack – will be able to set up a home
grow in up to 50 square feet. This might yield an ounce of cannabis per week –
more than enough for most patients. Those with special needs may request more
Or, the patient can go downtown, where four
non-profit cannabis centers – consituted as collectives or cooperatives per
state guidelines – will sell them what they need. Terminal patients will
likely be able to obtain cannabis at no cost.
And, in theory, the cannabis will flow in
medically appropriate amounts to those in genuine need without surrendering
whole houses, neighborhoods and prime downtown retail space to the marijuana
The new standards apply only to areas of Arcata
outside the Coastal Zone, which rings Humboldt Bay. A separate but identical
ordinance covers those areas, but will not go into effect until approved by
the Coastal Commission, which will take at least a year and probably longer.
Home cannabis growers may use up to 50 square and
10 vertical feet to grow, with a maximum of 1,200 watts of lighting. No gases
such as carbon dioxide or butane may be used.
The resulting cannabis can’t be sold, the growing
can’t be detectable from outside the home and the home must be occupied as a
If someone complains in writing to the City about
impacts from a suspected grow house, the City can act to inspect the grow.
Should Land Use Code violations be found, the City can take a number of
actions, from warnings to cancellation of occupancy permits to nuisance
Criteria which could form the basis of a complaint
range from specific to undefined. As listed in the ordinance, disallowed
adverse impacts include dust, glare, heat, noise, noxious gases, odor, smoke,
traffic, vibration – even “other impacts.”
That category might include a frequent complaint
by those who live near blocks of sealed grow houses where the occupants and
their associates come and go incognito and don’t participate in the
neighborhood – the simple loss of neighborly community.
Any neighbor complaints will remain confidential
unless subpoenaed as part of some subsequent litigation. City officials
believe that notice of a pending compliance inspection will compel felony
cannabis growers to retire their illegal operations.
Cooperatives and collectives
Medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives are
capped at the existing four, though if one closes the cap drops to three and
if another closes, the limit becomes two.
The centers may grow cannabis on site in up to 25
percent of their floor space or 1,500 square feet and 10 vertical feet
maximum. Grows must include fire safety, humidity and odor control measures.
Cannabis centers may only locate in specific zones
with a stringent Conditional Use Permit, with “special consideration” for
those within 300 feet of a residential area and within 500 feet of a park,
playground, day care or school.
The centers must develop and submit to the City
detailed Operations Manuals which specify staff and patient screening
procedures, hours of operation, security measures, energy offsets and chemical
use and storage.
Cannabis inventory grown on site or obtained from
members must be tracked and reported. The centers must submit to annual
The 50-foot limit
Medical cannabis advocates and concerned council
members discussed at length the 50-foot residential grow limit and the problem
with including required support equipment and processing area in that space.
Personnel from Humboldt Medical Supply placed a
five-by-10-foot tray before the council dais, then placed equipment and
supplies into it in a graphic display of the limitations such a requirement
would place on effective growing space.
Ultimately, the council approved the ordinance
with a verbal stipulation that the 50 square feet be reserved for cultivation,
and not include other items.
A review of the new ordinance and possible adjustments may be made in six
Stakeholders – grow house neighbors and cannabis
center operators –offered qualified approval to the new standards.
Eric Heimstadt, director of Humboldt Medical
Supply, called it a “real good ordinance” and said he was looking forward to
its going into effect Dec. 19. “I think it ought to be adopted statewide,”
Alone among local cannabis center operators,
Heimstadt has consistently lobbied for regulation to bring order to the Wild
West cannabis industry. He likened the present situation to that of the meat
industry prior to publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. That
1906 newspaper serial, later published as a book, exposed labor abuses and
health hazards at slaughterhouses and spurred regulation and government
Heimstadt said fears about space limits on grow
areas were a bit of a canard, since the 1,200 watt lighting cap was the real
limiting factor. “Size doesn’t matter,” he quipped.
Heimstadt said he had conducted experiments
proving that the 1,200 watts will yield as much usable medicine in a six to
nine square foot space as 50 square feet.
Most cannabis patients, he said, get by on about a gram a day of medicine, or
about an ounce per month, which is easily obtained with the allowable space
and wattage in the new ordinance.
Heimstadt said HMS'
lawsuit against the City will remain on the books until the new land use
standards go into effect and on-site cannabis cultivation is clearly legal
under City law.
Robin Hashem, who spearheaded the informal “Nip It
In The Bud” movement which lobbied the City Council and Planning Commission
for cannabis regulation, especially with regard to grow houses, reflected on
“The whole process of creating the medical
cannabis standard was very long, arduous and deliberative, with extensive
input from a wide variety of the public, especially the dispensaries,” Hashem
said. “Even so, it is just the first step in ensuring valid 215 patients have
safe access and, just as important in my view, to make sure that houses in
Arcata are for people to live in, not for commercial grows that feed an
illicit market. Better enforcement will be key. I think what happened at the
Fisher’s house on Terrace Avenue [Eye,
Nov. 11] is just the latest example that shows how people are still
abusing the spirit of 215 for profit and taking advantage of Arcata’s good
nature and perhaps laxity in enforcement. Hopefully, this medical cannabis
standard will begin to rein in the excess, while still protecting chronically
ill patients who benefit from medical cannabis. Like I said, it’s a first