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Santa Barbara Supervisors OK Cannabis Tax for June Ballot, Approve Land Use Ordinances

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday evening to approve regulatory ordinances and a general tax ballot measure for cannabis-related operations.

The decisions came after a more-than-seven-hour meeting and some 50 public comments, which itself follows months of discussion on the board and an environmental impact report.

In a 4-1 vote — with Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting— the Board of Supervisors approved marijuana-related zoning and land use ordinances “in concept,” and then accepted specific revisions after county staff revised some of the wording. There was a break in the meeting and Adam left by the time the meeting resumed, just after 7 p.m.

The ordinance language, which can be viewed among Tuesday's agenda items here, lays out regulations for marijuana operations in unincorporated county areas, including growing and selling cannabis products. 

California voters passed Proposition 64 to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana in the state in November 2016, and state-issued temporary licenses started being issued Jan. 2 .

“It’s the wild, wild west out there, and slowing the regulation down isn’t going to make things better,” First District County Supervisor Das Williams said. “Getting to a regulatory framework, as quickly as possible, is how we are going to reduce the impacts. Whatever we do on paper has to work in reality.”

Both ordinances will have a second reading at the Feb. 13 meeting in Santa Maria, and will likely be passed on the administrative agenda unless a supervisor singles it out for discussion and a separate vote.

Some of the revisions approved Tuesday include removing odor abatement plans on lots zoned in the AG-2 agricultural district in the county, limitations where outdoor cultivation would be allowed, and a cap on the amount of cannabis retail sites. The regulations also deal with the size of buffer zones, where no cannabis operations would be allowed.

Outdoor cultivation in AG-1 zones is banned within 1,500 feet of a residential zone and schools, day care centers or youth centers, according to the land-use ordinance change approved Tuesday.

Supervisors on Tuesday also approved putting a general tax rate on cannabis operations on the June ballot.

To pass, the general tax on gross receipts of cannabis-related operations in unincorporated areas of the county would need a majority of voters to approve it. 

Placing the measure on the ballot required a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors, which is what it got: Supervisors Joan Hartmann, Steve Lavagnino, Williams and Janet Wolf voted for it, and Adam voted against it. 

“The description that we are putting out is disingenuous,” Adam said about the language in the land use ordinance, explaining why he dissented.

“I don’t believe the way this is set up that it’s going to generate the revenue we were talking about. The general tax doesn’t guarantee how general funds will be spent.” 

The county selected tax rates that include 1 percent of gross receipts for nursery operations, 1 percent of gross receipts for distributor operations (excluding distributor transport only), 3 percent of gross receipts for manufacturers, 4 percent gross receipts on cultivators, 6 percent gross receipts for retailers, and 6 percent for micro-businesses.

Wolf said she doesn’t picture voting for a general tax, adding that she supported the cannabis tax for revenues to fund law enforcement, and mental health and public health services.

“This is a time of compromise,” she said.

County supervisors also voted to remove the cap of 8 percent for cannabis operators who have more than one license, and will allow up to three licenses per operator. 

The ballot measure is limited to 75 words, and the Board removed the cap to fit more language into the measure explaining how the county plans to spend the tax revenues. 

A draft of the potential ballot language says revenue from the new tax measure, should it pass, is expected to raise between $5 million and $25 million annually and would fund “general governmental services.”

If voters pass it in the June 5 election, the tax would take effect July 1 and would have no end date. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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