California marijuana: If Prop. 64 passes, the county will have to first conduct an environmental review before it can begin regulating the recreational market. Pictured: A closeup of mariuana flowers grown in a commercial Denver cultivation facility in December 2014. (Denver Post file)

This California county states it will mirror medical marijuana rules if Prop. 64 passes

Should recreational marijuana become legal in California this November, Humboldt County officials state that regulations for this new market will likely mirror those already in place for medical cannabis businesses.

But because of a July court agreement, the county will have to first conduct an environmental review before it can begin regulating the recreational market.

“From my perspective and generally speaking, that’s not going to be that difficult,” county 2nd District Supervisor and Medical Marijuana Subcommittee member Estelle Fennell said. “It’s not going to change much. It’s just going to fold it into the existing ordinance.”

Humboldt County is believed to be the first local government in California to have adopted commercial medical marijuana rules after the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown adopted the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in 2015. Passed in January, the county’s regulations allows for medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, transport, testing and retail businesses to open in unincorporated areas.

The November ballot initiative Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana in California, with business applications being issued starting in January 2018.

The Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Project, also known as HUMMAP, filed a lawsuit against the county in February challenging the county’s claim that their marijuana rules would have no significant impact on the environment. The county and HUMMAP settled the lawsuit in July, with the county agreeing not to expand its marijuana regulations without first conducting a full environmental review.

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck said that the settlement agreement will apply to any recreational marijuana rules the board may consider. In September, the Board of Supervisors decided it would conduct the environmental review in stages rather than trying to review all the prospective rule changes at once, which could take several years.

“The smaller the focus, the quicker we can get it done,” Blanck said.

The review will also be looking at expanding the areas where new medical marijuana cultivation can take place, which is currently restricted to prime agricultural lands.

“Right now that’s very, very restricted,” Fennell said.

The county is set to release a request for proposals to choose who will conduct this environmental review, which Fennell said will provide a clearer picture of how long the review process will take.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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