Council fine-tunes role of marijuana task force

October 17, 2007

Cerena Johnson, Eureka Reporter

The Arcata City Council approved the creation of a working group Tuesday to identify guidelines for land-use regulations of marijuana grow houses and clinics.

The council initially voted to create a marijuana task force at its Oct. 3 meeting.

Tuesday, city staff requested the council consider categories of participants, initiate recruiting and prepare a timeline and scope of work to be undertaken by the task force.

Residents and council members reiterated previous concerns about regulation, including public safety and infringement on patients’ rights.

Ultimately, the council unanimously agreed to direct city staff to put together a working group in a manner similar to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ 215 task force, comprising representatives of different interested parties.

The group will define issues based on the city’s staff report and points agreed on by the council.

The council previously agreed on a need to regulate medical marijuana clinics and grow houses through land-use regulations or the upcoming land-use code, and confirmed that personal medical marijuana grows in residential zones would only be allowed as “accessory use,” subject to specific standards.

Additionally, the council came to a consensus that commercial and central business district zones are appropriate locations for clinics, and also that citing criteria should be required to buffer schools and playgrounds from marijuana clinics.

In order to enable a more thorough review of community concerns, the working group will be given a broader timeline, corresponding with the city’s budget and goal-setting processes.

A number of issues remained that the council did not come to a consensus on, including what constitutes “accessory use” of marijuana, as well as what acceptable buffers around clinics and grow houses should be, and whether additional regulation of medical marijuana clinics will be necessary.

Staff expressed concern at the amount of time and city resources a potential task force would utilize, and at lack of clear direction provided by the council to the proposed task force.

Community Development Director Tom Conlon said if the city adopts regulations, it would ultimately be the city’s responsibility to enforce them.

The city does not have a separate budget for enforcement of the regulations.

Mayor Harmony Groves and Councilmember Paul Pitino agreed that however the task force or group is tailored, clear direction needs to be provided. They drew comparison to the city’s Homeless Task Force, which failed without clear direction and leadership.

“We may have subtle differences, but I think we are all trying to head in the same direction,” Councilmember Mark Wheetley said. He proposed a technical group spearheaded by the city manager to develop a framework for the regulations.

Wheetley’s proposal was not adopted. Council members expressed concern at the amount of staff time and finances that would be required.

“I think we need balance on this issue,” Groves said, and advocated that scoping of the issue correspond with the city’s future goals.

“What really has to be done is some very strong, specific policy decisions,” said City Manager Michael Hackett.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here again,” said Councilmember Michael Machi, who introduced the motion to create a group based on the county’s.

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