Arcata council takes on regulations for marijuana growing houses, clinics

October 03, 2007

Cerena Johnson, Eureka Reporter (CA)

The regulation of marijuana grow houses and clinics was a hot topic of discussion at the Arcata City Council meeting Wednesday.

After hearing a report from staff and testimony from residents on all sides of the issue, the council determined more information and direction will be needed before any decisions are made. That direction will come in part through the creation of a task force.


Community Development Director Tom Conlon said council and city staff have regularly heard complaints about the effect of marijuana grow houses on housing units, and cited hazards and significant impacts to surrounding areas.

Conlon said while marijuana clinics have not been a problem for the city, requests about where clinics can be placed are received at the rate of about one per week.

Staff recommended the council determine the need to regulate grow houses and clinics through the upcoming Land Use Code and Land Use and Development Guide.

Staff also requested the council provide direction by confirming personal medical marijuana grows in residential zones would only be allowed as an “accessory use” falling under “compassionate use,” also taking into consideration what would be the most restrictive standards.

Additionally, the council was asked to confirm commercial and central business district zones as appropriate for medical marijuana clinics, determine whether the number of clinics should be capped at its current number, four, and decide if additional standards should be developed for “replacement” clinics to protect areas such as schools or churches.

Residents; representatives of the medical community and dispensaries; marijuana advocacy groups; and medical marijuana patients offered several views on the issue, as well as their services to support the city in the decision-making process.

“Putting a limit on the number of dispensaries in Arcata seems somewhat arbitrary to me,” said David Lawlor of Humboldt County’s chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

The market will dictate how many are necessary, he said.

Lawlor said dispensaries provide social support and safe access for patients, and are not a source of community complaints.

He also cited Senate Bill 420, which sets limits for the number of plants a patient with a 215 card can grow, and said the housing crisis and role of grow houses has been used as a “red herring.”

“I don’t think we should put patients at risk,” he said.

Others called for more information on growing safety and less regulation on behalf of the city, and said regulation of dispensaries works to combat crime.

A majority of concern surrounded the regulation of residential grow houses within the city.

A number of residents said they have witnessed a negative transformation of their neighborhoods and noted dangers imposed by unsafe growing practices, as well as an increase in crime.

Some suggested marijuana facilities be taxed like any other business, with dispensaries treated like any other medical facility.

Rental owners spoke of thousands of dollars of destruction to property by tenants, and some said the number of grow houses is contributing to a lack of housing options within the city.

Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond briefly addressed the council.

He said the university is concerned for the safety of its students and the lack of housing for students within the city.

“If the university can help you in any way, we’d be pleased to do so,” he said.

The issue of regulating grow houses versus medical marijuana clinics became somewhat divided among the council.

Councilmember Alex Stillman expressed concern that housing is being used without occupants, and also questioned the amount of energy used in residential growing.

Stillman suggested growing be regulated to specific areas of property, or in separate community facilities, to ensure safety.

Councilmember Mark Wheetley said he wasn’t questioning the medical component, but safety.

“Public safety is the No. 1 criteria I’m coming down on,” he said. “I think we need to take the most restrictive path at this point in time.”

Councilmembers Paul Pitino and Michael Machi said they felt personal grows should be differentiated from commercial ones.

“(Proposition) 215, to me, means that an individual can grow their medicine wherever they live,” Pitino said.

The differentiation was suggested in order to limit the amount of plants acceptable per private dwelling.

Ultimately, the council voted to create a task force to seek further input from the community, as well as to more clearly define the role the council should play.

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