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Humboldt County makes historic advances regulating cannabis

July 17, 2017
Humboldt County licensee Emerald Family Farms
Courtesy of Emerald Family Farms
Humboldt County licensee Emerald Family Farms
SOURCE: Courtesy of Emerald Family Farms

Humboldt County, Calif., the epicenter of cannabis cultivation, is preparing to cash in big on marijuana tax revenue.

The Humboldt County Planning and Building Department plans to process hundreds of medical cannabis growing and manufacturing permits before the commercial portions of California legalization Proposition 64 come into effect January 1st, 2018. The county’s decision will lead to a predicted 120 percent increase in cannabis cultivation tax revenue, from $2.2 million to $4.8 million this fiscal year, according to department officials.

To date, the county has approved 44 business applications of the total 2,300 received so far, according to Planning and Building Department Deputy Director Robert Russell. However, the office committed in May to process all completed cannabis business applications turned in by June 30th. The incentive to boost application numbers drew a huge grower response. In the last two weeks of June alone, the department's Cannabis Services Division received 300 completed applications.

In response to the influx of applications, the department hired five new staff members, with three more starting this Monday, according to Russell.

“We are organized to tackle the huge load before us,” he said. Still, the permitting process won’t get done overnight. “This is a new industry. It’s very much an adjustment for everybody. It takes time,” Russell said.

For example, two-thirds of applications received by the department are incomplete.

The Emerald Triangle, comprised of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, is believed to be the largest producer of marijuana in the United States, supplying the country with an estimated 79% of its domestically produced cannabis, contributing billions of dollars to the state’s economy annually. Cannabis cultivation in the region dates back to the 1960’s, beginning with groups of urban immigrants who started grows in rural areas, so it’s no surprise that Humboldt is leading the state in cannabis cultivation applications

“Humboldt County has the best cannabis in the world. You have an industry that has to change everything it’s doing. The county is rushing to make this thing work,” said 32-year-old Cody Stross, CEO of Northern Emeralds, a fully permitted cannabis business with four approved cannabis permits in Humboldt and one in Arcata, California. “The county officials have gone above and beyond. They are truly on the side of the people and that’s a rare thing to see in our government,” he said.

According to a 2016 study by researchers from the UC Berkeley, the county is home to at least 8,400 marijuana cultivation sites. So, although application numbers are high, they will likely only keep growing.