To stirring applause in a packed Arcata City Council Chamber, councilmembers Susan Ornelas, Paul Pitino, Sofia Pereira, Mark Wheetley and Mayor Michael Winkler unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with a new “Medical Marijuana Innovation Area” last night.

As reported yesterday, the newly proposed area intended for legal production, cultivation and wholesale of marijuana products consists of three plots of land located on West End Road.

In his presentation to the council, Community Development Director Larry Oetker made clear that he was not a “pot cheerleader” by any means, but he provided counsel on the land use regulations and the economic promise of establishing a legal framework for the pot market.

“I listen to the radio and quite frankly, you can hear it. I don’t care where you’re at. The industry is gearing towards medical marijuana legalization,” Oetker said. ” I just really think that we are at a point in time that we need to give this an honest try or maintain the status quo.”

Oetker suggested that the site of the old Humboldt Flakeboard mill be used for grows, warehouses and labs. It would serve as a wholesale facility for on-site marijuana cultivation, as well as a hub for growers outside of the “innovation area” to come and sell their product. He said that legal retail sale of marijuana products would remain with the dispensaries.

Attached to the proposal is a suggested moratorium on any new marijuana cultivation and processing facilities outside the project area (of which there remain four available spaces, as per Arcata’s current land use code.)

Oetker said this would afford the city time to formulate a concrete approach to the kind of market the city wants to pursue in the future.

“How do we want to treat it from a tourism perspective? Would we allow it to occur in a bed-and-breakfast environment or hostel?” Oetker asked. “These are real land use questions we need to address and tackle.”

Edibles were also covered in the discussion, as Oetker insisted that food, health and safety standards be enforced, starting with the development of a separate building specifically for marijuana food products. Showrooms were also suggested for the facility.

Much of the conversation around the topic was formal and vaguely uneasy, but Councilmember Ornelas cleared the air when she expressed skepticism about the moratorium in the final statements before the vote.

“My whole life it’s been illegal, it’s seen as kind of a hush thing, and it’s ‘evil’ and that’s just the way it’s been addressed, that’s the only way we’ve ever known it.” she said. ” I understand it’s sensitive […] and maybe people my age will never shift, but don’t wanna start out regulating things with our cultural biases against it.”

The growers in attendance were optimistic. Jonathan Gilbert, 36, said this was a good start in acknowledging a large local industry long denied a seat at the table.

“We’ve been paying a steep price to operate up to this point,” Gilbert said. “This is a step in the right direction. I’m telling you, the demand exceeds the real estate.”

The project will now head to the Arcata Planning Commission, which will work out further details and offer its own recommendations.


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