Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 9:09 am | Fair 54º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara County Considering Caps for Cannabis Cultivation

Santa Barbara County has more temporary state cannabis licenses than any other county, and 20 percent of the state total as of early March – all while local leaders are crafting regulations for everything from cultivating to delivering marijuana.

There were 482 state temporary cultivation licenses as of early March, which had pushed past 500 as of Tuesday, for a total of 119 acres of cultivation, according to Dennis Bozanich, deputy county executive officer.

The licensees include more than 240 operators from the county’s registry, in which it gathered self-reported information about people who were already growing, or planning to grow, medical or recreational marijuana in unincorporated county areas.

Licenses are concentrated in the Lompoc and Carpinteria valleys, Bozanich said.

Entities can have unlimited small cultivation licenses, but only one medium license, under the state rules, he added.

The first of the state temporary licenses will expire in May, and the county may not have its own business license program in effect yet, so a transition plan is one of the many topics the Board of Supervisors will tackle at the April 10 meeting.

The 35-page business license ordinance includes a cap on retail storefront cannabis operations (eight total, two per supervisorial district) but no cap on cultivation, which supervisors may want to change.

Bozanich explained that the county could cap cultivation by limiting the amount in the coastal zone; limiting the amount within the Carpinteria greenhouse overlay boundary, where there is the greatest concentration of licenses; using a Williamson Act restriction; or not using a cap, and assuming the market will limit cultivation.

Board members asked staff to come back with options for banning outdoor cultivation in the coastal zone (greenhouses would be OK, but not hoop houses); limiting total cultivation to 186 acres in the Carpinteria greenhouse overlay; and developing a transition plan for expiring state licenses.  

Santa Barbara County still doesn’t know what it will do with the tax and licensing money it gets from cannabis operations, which is a reason it needs a transition plan.

California voters legalized pot sales with the passage of Proposition 64, but since marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, it complicates financial dealings for the businesses and the government agencies taxing them.

Treasurer-Tax Collector Harry Hagen said his office is negotiating with a bank and armored carrier right now, and said it would probably take until at least June.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam were opposed to the direction the ordinance is going, calling it lenient and restrictive, respectively. 

Wolf said neighboring counties have very few temporary state licenses issued, “so there obviously is something very unusual going on in Santa Barbara County.”

She pointed to county maps of existing cultivation operators, some of which are located in zones where the county won’t allow grows.  

“I think we’re just digging ourselves into a deeper hole by allowing these folks to get state licenses when they’re not going to be permitted by the county,” Wolf said.

“I was hoping there would be, in the end, a pretty wide lane of legal conduct, and everything outside of that would be illegal and we could enforce it,” Adam said.

“But now it seems we made such a narrow lane that made everything outside of it illegal… It doesn’t seem to me there’s enough consequence to it to keep the black market from taking off.”

Fifth Supervisor Steve Lavagnino joked that, “If you and Wolf are unhappy, then it’s probably somewhere where I like it.”

Lavagnino said the county’s high number of licenses is a good thing, showing that the area is leading the state in bringing people into compliance and developing its own rules. Other counties report no licenses and clearly have existing grows – like Ventura, he said.

First District Supervisor Das Williams chimed in, “They have zero when I can see them from Carpinteria.”

During public comment, several marijuana growers spoke against cultivation caps, saying it would create a rush on licenses, and asked the county to do what it could to protect small farmers.

Many of the growers also process, or want to process, their cannabis to be made into extracts, edibles and other products, with one saying that fewer people want to smoke it.

The concentration of cultivation in Carpinteria has caused concerns for odor control, public safety and beyond.

Representatives from the city and Cate School asked the Board of Supervisors to limit cultivation in the Carpinteria Valley to try and control the concentration there.

“Carpinteria has unwillingly become the cannabis capital of California,” Cate School administrator Charlotte Brownlee said.

The supervisors previously approved a land-use ordinance for cannabis operations and a tax measure for the June ballot.

Cities in Santa Barbara County also are working on rules for storefront retail, cultivation and other cannabis operations, while the county ordinances will apply to all unincorporated areas. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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