Following the advice of county staff, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today moved toward establishing a scaled-down version of a Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance (MMLUO), something simple enough to get passed before March 1 and small enough in scope to avoid conflict with state environmental law.

With the statewide Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) now in effect, the board is facing constraints in at least two directions. First off, as previously reported, there’s the March 1 deadline that appears in one of the three bills that make up the MMRSA. While the bill’s author, Assemblyman Jim Wood, has promised that the deadline was inserted by mistake and will be deleted with emergency legislation, the supervisors decided they didn’t want to risk losing the ability to enact local regulations, as the bill currently states.

Secondly, the board is constrained by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). According to this statewide environmental law, projects that will not have a significant impact on the environment can be passed with a simple statement that more or less says as much. It’s called a Mitigated Negative Declaration, or MND. Projects that will have a significant environmental impact, meanwhile, must go through a far more extensive environmental review process that requires a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). (So many acronyms.)

The county staff’s report for this item warned supervisors that MMLUO draft prepared by the county Planning Commission would almost certainly require that second, more extensive type of environmental review. And since there’s not nearly enough time to get through such an involved process and still pass an ordinance by March 1, staff recommended “the expedited adoption of some type of ordinance” — just so Humboldt County can tell the state that it had something in place before the deadline (a deadline that may or may not matter at all).

With so much uncertainty and so many moving parts, the board’s current plan of action will solve some immediate problems while postponing some of the big questions about regulating medical marijuana in the county. The board plans to meet again on both Monday and Tuesday of next week with the goal of passing some type of ordinance by the end of the day Tuesday.

Tomorrow, in a follow-up post, we’ll look into some of the big issues being postponed as well as the questions and comments expressed by the public at today’s hearing. And if you’d like to get a head start, below you can find the staff report for today’s hearing: