File photo of some weed plants in a greenhouse.


Gather ‘round, public watchdogs! Civil Grand Jury report season is upon us, and the first in this year’s batch just dropped. It examines the county’s weed permit processes and finds them lacking.

Quick refresher here: The Civil Grand Jury is an independent body of 19 citizen volunteers. Sworn to secrecy, jurors do most of their work behind closed doors, functioning as an instrument of the state court system. Their duty: to investigate and report on the institutions of local government, ensuring that public monies are being handled sensibly, that t’s are being crossed and i’s dotted, etc. Basically, as the website puts it, they seek to ensure “honest, efficient government in the best interest of the people.”

Three cheers!

As noted above, the jury’s first report this year — which carries the mildly snide title “Permitted (Eventually)” — relays its findings from an investigation into Humboldt County’s permitting process for commercial cannabis cultivation. In the course of its investigation, the jury reviewed relevant rules, regulations and codes; interviewed county officials and employees; explored the proprietary online permit management software used by the county (Accela); conducted “internet research” and more.

Among the jury’s findings: As of January 2022, the county had more than 900 pending cannabis permits, though many are amendments to existing permits. According to the report, the permit applications get handled on a “first-come first-served” basis. 

Unfortunately, the report notes, the Accela software employed by the county can’t accept credit card payments, which means the public can’t use the software’s online application process. Another shortcoming of the software as deployed: employees in the Public Works Department are limited to responding to referrals from employees in the Planning & Building Department.

The program does allow members of the public to access and view the status of permit applications, though the Civil Grand Jury report calls the process “cumbersome.” 

The report also calls out a controversial element of the county’s weed-grow permitting process — namely, that applicants are allowed to “self-certify” that roads leading to their cultivation sites meet the county’s Category 4 roadway standards, and this self-certification is not always verified.

Ultimately, the report lists seven recommendations, which we’ll paraphrase below:

  1. The county should pay to upgrade the Accela system so applicants can complete the application, including payment, online, thereby reducing the need for them to physically come into the Planning and Building office.
  2. The county should pay to improve Accela so that employees in Planning and Building can complete more tasks, including reviews, calculations, permitting and reporting.
  3. The county should pay to “fully implement Accela to a level which enables Public Works to meet its specific needs.” (This one is a bit redundant, perhaps.)
  4. In the county’s Citizen Access Portal, the Planning and Building Department should give the public specific instructions on how to search a location without creating an account in Accela or contacting the Planning and Building staff.
  5. When the Planning and Building Department gets notified that a state provisional license has been approved or denied, staff should immediately act on the corresponding interim cannabis permits.
  6. For applications pending more than 30 days, the Planning and Building Department should notify applicants what they need to do for approval.
  7. Before the end of the year, Public Works employees need to conduct actual verification that a roadway meets Category 4 requirements.

The county is not obliged to adopt the Civil Grand Jury’s recommendations, but legally it does have to respond to the report. 

For this one, the Civil Grand Jury is requesting responses from Planning and Building Department Director John Ford and Public Works Department Director Thomas Mattson sometime in the next 60 days.

The jury is also requesting a response from the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors within 90 days.

Click the link below to download the full report.


DOCUMENT: Permitted (Eventually): A Review of the Cannabis Cultivation Permitting Process in Humboldt County