Humboldt County supervisors remain committed to passing a Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance before March 1, despite assurances from state officials that local governments will have as long as they want and need to enact rules on the industry.

Last week, Assemblymember Jim Wood sent a letter to California cities and counties assuring them that while Assembly Bill 243 did include a March 1 deadline for local regulations, the date was a mistake that only appeared in the bill due to “an inadvertent drafting error.”

In our post on the letter, we called his announcement a game-changer. Maybe not.

Second District Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell said she thinks the board should continue with the ordinance on its current schedule.

“I appreciate Assemblyman Woods’ reassurances and hope, for the sake of local control, that we can count on a little more breathing room,” she said via email. “Nonetheless, I believe it would be a mistake to sit back and let events wash over Humboldt County to our possible detriment in the long run. We have a lot of work ahead of us at both the state and the local level and now is not the time to put any aspect of this complicated framework on the back burner.”

Two other supervisors took things a step further, saying they’ve long assumed that the March 1 deadline would be withdrawn.

“It’s been my understanding from the start that the March 1 date was in error, and that all parties from the Governor on down were determined to fix it,” said 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace. 

Likewise, 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he’s “always assumed” the March 1 date would be pulled. 

In his letter to local jurisdictions, Woods said that as soon as he discovered the error in the bill he published a letter in the Assembly Journal, the official record of the Assembly, declaring his intention to fix the mistake by passing urgency legislation when the legislature reconvenes in January.

A spokesperson for Governor Jerry Brown told the L.A. Times Friday that the governor’s office supports the removal of the deadline. “

“The governor supports allowing local municipalities a reasonable amount of time to come up with regulations that work for their communities,” the spokesperson told the Times.

While Humboldt County has been rushing to craft an ordinance governing cannabis cultivation, many cities across the state are looking to ban such cultivation altogether. The L.A. Times reports that 19 cities in the state have already done so, and dozens more are scrambling to ban the demon weed before the deadline, regardless of assurances that it will be removed.

Colusa and Fresno counties have also enacted bans on outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana.

Lovelace said in an email that having a deadline is often helpful. “[S]o I think we should continue to operate as if the deadline is firm. We don’t have to get this perfect right out of the box, we just need to get something in place for this season … .”  

A big source of debate at the supervisors’ Dec. 15 hearing on the land use ordinance concerned state environmental law. County staff had prepared a draft to be submitted under a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which serves as a declaration that no significant environmental damage will result from the ordinance. But over the course of 10 public meetings, the county Planning Commission made significant changes to the draft ordinance, loosening the proposed restrictions on cultivation. (The most controversial of these changes involved opening the door to cultivation on lands zoned for timber production.)

Many members of the public spoke up at the Dec. 15 meeting to question those changes and argue that the revisions should trigger a full environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act — and if the county failed to undertake such reviews, several speakers suggested, lawsuits would soon force the issue.

Lovelace said that if the county hopes to complete the ordinance before March 1, as he’s advocating, it will mean working within the confines of the Mitigated Negative Declaration. “Once that’s done, we can immediately begin working on a more comprehensive program for next year, which would require a full EIR [Environmental Impact Report],” he said.

The next hearing on the Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance will be held on Jan. 5.