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Draft EIR For Santa Barbara County Marijuana Operations Reveals Significant, Unavoidable Impacts

Public comments are being accepted for the report, which analyzes proposed regulations for marijuana farms

Tepusquet Canyon resident Lil Clary spoke against allowing marijuana cultivation in her area during a meeting in Santa Maria Tuesday discussing the draft environmental impact report for proposed cannabis operations regulations. Click to view larger
Tepusquet Canyon resident Lil Clary spoke against allowing marijuana cultivation in her area during a meeting in Santa Maria Tuesday discussing the draft environmental impact report for proposed cannabis operations regulations. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

A draft environmental impact report on the proposed regulations for marijuana operations in Santa Barbara County reveals implementation would cause significant and unavoidable impacts to agricultural resources, air quality, noise and traffic countywide.

The 600-plus page document was released this week and is available online here.

Earlier this year, the county Board of Supervisors banned growing, distributing and selling recreational marijuana so that planning staff could develop permanent rules for both recreational and medical marijuana operations.

The county also currently prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries and most medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas.

County Supervising Planner Mindy Fogg said at a Tuesday night public meeting in Santa Maria that the draft program environmental impact report (PEIR) and what it analyzed was generally based on the state's licensing program for cannabis, which is still evolving.

Voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

The state is expected to start issuing temporary business licenses in January. 

Fogg also said the environmental document looks mostly at commercial activities rather than personal use, since government is very limited in what it can regulate when it comes to personal use of cannabis.

Santa Barbara County’s long range planning team listens to public comment during a meeting Tuesday in Santa Maria on the draft program environmental impact report for a proposed marijuana land use ordinance and licensing program. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County’s long range planning team listens to public comment during a meeting Tuesday in Santa Maria on the draft program environmental impact report for a proposed marijuana land use ordinance and licensing program. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

Personal cultivation of six plants is legal under state law. 

The draft PEIR evaluated four project possibilities, including a no-project alternative and what is being called the "environmentally superior alternative," which includes fewer marijuana cultivation registrants. 

The county developed a cannabis registry this summer to get a feel for how many individuals currently were growing, had grown, or wanted to grow marijuana in unincorporated county areas, and close to 500 people signed up for the registry, Fogg said. 

Following the meeting, Fogg noted that the draft PEIR analyzes capping the number of marijuana business permits at 250, but that the Board of Supervisors would have the authority to change that number. 

The county's top issues for marijuana regulations include land-use permitting, business licensing and fees.

County staff expect to bring a proposed ordinance regulating marijuana-related operations to the Board of Supervisors for possible adoption in February 2018.  

Longtime Tepusquet Canyon resident Renee O’Neill and Cebada Canyon resident Derek McLeish exchange contact information during Tuesday’s meeting. McLeish said he wore the DIY mask to highlight the offensive odor of marijuana. Click to view larger
Longtime Tepusquet Canyon resident Renee O’Neill and Cebada Canyon resident Derek McLeish exchange contact information during Tuesday’s meeting. McLeish said he wore the DIY mask to highlight the offensive odor of marijuana. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

More information about the county's cannabis-related ordinance is available here and the draft PEIR information is available here

The public can submit comments on the draft PEIR until 5 p.m. on Nov. 16, and comments can be submitted online by emailing [email protected]

About 50 people gathered at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria on Tuesday night for a presentation on the draft PEIR and to submit comments.

Most of the public speakers live in Tepusquet Canyon east of Santa Maria, which residents say is home to 30 illegal marijuana grows.

Area residents formed a Crisis Committee earlier this year to eliminate marijuana grows from their neighborhood. Members routinely show up to county meetings on marijuana issues, sporting purple sun visors, to air their grievances. 

The residents want to see Tepusquet Canyon eliminated as an area allowing cannabis operations under the new rules, saying they object partly because of the region's limited water supply, but also because of elevated fire danger. 

“The Tepusquet planning area must remain off limits,” said Mike Butler, a 30-year resident of the area. “This isn't peace, love and a pot plant in the backyard. It's big business … and has the potential to transform our county.”

He urged the county not to open the flood gates for individuals who are eager to obtain permits for marijuana operations in the region.

Supervisors take no action on temporary medical marijuana ban

During Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors opted to leave the county's temporary ban on medical marijuana in place.

They took no action on amending a process for determining the legal nonconforming status of existing medical marijuana grows in the county.

With a 4-1 vote, the supervisors directed staff to return on Nov. 14 with options for drafting letters for medical cannabis growers who meet county regulations after the individuals have gone through a land-check process with planning staff.

The letter would be used by medical marijuana growers to obtain business licenses from the state when the process for issuing temporary licenses begins later this year. 

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf dissented, saying the county should focus its time on developing the ordinance to regulate marijuana operations. 

In a unanimous vote, the supervisors directed staff to develop an amortization process for growers that would allow them enough time to recoup their investments if they don't obtain state licenses and/or county permits.

That issue will come back to the board at the Nov. 14 meeting as well.  

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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