Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

On a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved retail cannabis and cannabis manufacturing ordinances and lifted the ban on commercial cannabis that has been in place since March.

Supervisor Roger Gitlin, who opposed legalizing commercial and retail cannabis in the county, said it should be no surprise that he planned to vote no on the ban repeal and ordinances.

Gitlin said it seemed statistics showing increased incidents of driving under the influence of cannabis were being ignored. Gitlin said he was concerned about the limited amount of county income commercial cannabis would bring because the direction is the county will start small with commercial cannabis.

Prior to the vote, Gitlin cautioned other supervisors that should commercial cannabis be approved, the action would change the county forever.

“I pray that I am wrong,” he said.

Supervisor Bob Berkowitz said he has also opposed the legalization of cannabis in the county and noted published reports that more minors are using it. However, he said when it comes to his job as a supervisor, the views of his voting constituents took priority over his own. He said while it pains him to go against those county residents who oppose it, he felt it his duty to express the will of the majority who voted for the legalization, regulation and taxation of commercial cannabis in Del Norte County.

Resident Liz Freeman, a resident who has opposed commercial cannabis, pleaded with the board to uphold the ban. While some believe it will bring revenue to the county, Freeman said, commercialization will benefit only a few people. She addressed Berkowitz directly, saying if he votes to lift the ban, he will no longer represent her.

Working group member Erik Enther said ordinances have been crafted in a way that they fit Del Norte County now. He said countless county staff hours went into vetting and refining the ideas of the working group. He said he is hopeful that the ordinances set guidelines for people to operate cannabis businesses in Del Norte County.

Robert Derego, a member of the working group, said while ordinances have taken a long time to reach, the process is going faster than other counties. He said while he did not vote for Measure B, 63 percent of county voters did. Derego called the results “telling.”

Jesse Davis, vice chair of the working group, noted it’s been two years since Prop 64 passed, saying the ordinances are a good starting point to local regulation. Admitting he was anxious about the vote, Davis said he looks forward to creating an inviting business environment in the county for commercial cannabis.

Aaron Skroback urged the board to live up to its promise the ban would be repealed and ordinances enacted by December.

Chair Chris Howard thanked the working group for their time and effort, agreeing the ordinances are the best fit for Del Norte County specifically.

The board approved the ordinances regulating commercial cannabis specific to retail and manufacturing activity outside the Coastal Zone, an ordinance establishing regulations for commercial cannabis retail and manufacturing activity within the Coastal Zone, and an ordinance amending the prohibition of commercial cannabis activity.

Further action

The next action by the board was to introduce an ordinance establishing regulations for cultivation in and out of the coastal zone, setting a public hearing and directing county counsel to prepare a summary for publication.

County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair said the cultivation ordinance applies specifically to indoor cultivation on agricultural and manufacturing lands.

Using a series of maps, Campbell-Blair explained proposed locations around the county where cultivation would be allowed, along with retail and manufacturing locations.

Indoor cultivation would occur inside a county-permitted, closed structure using artificial light and odor filtration devices.

Regarding concerns about fencing and security systems, Campbell-Blair explained the ordinance requires that construction blend somewhat to its surroundings, using trees, bushes, and other objects.

He explained a use permit will be “a negotiated agreement between the community and the operator,” meaning applicants will have to show the county planning commission they can meet the standard of hiding, disguising or minimizing indicators of cannabis cultivation, so they are not readily apparent to the casual observer viewing it from a public space. Campbell-Blair said it will be up to the community and county planning commission whether applicants meet the standard.

“This will ensure that if you want to cultivate cannabis, you will go to your neighbors first,” he said, adding neighbors can then negotiate conditions and setbacks that can be shown to the Planning Commission. However, with commissioners typically voting 3-2 against cannabis-related issues, Campbell-Blair said applicants will have to “do a lot of homework.”

Howard said the ordinances represent baby steps necessary to get it right. The board voted 4-1 to introduce the ordinances. The public hearing will take place at the next meeting on Dec. 11.