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Santa Barbara Supervisors Delay Action on Requested Marijuana Letters for State

Santa Barbara County has moved one step closer to defining how it will treat temporary business licenses for the sale of medicinal marijuana.

With a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors gave county staff conceptual direction for how to deal with the temporary licenses, which the state is expected to begin issuing Jan. 1.

Supervisors Janet Wolf and Peter Adam dissented in the split decision.

Staff is expected to return with findings on Dec. 14 during a special meeting when the supervisors are slated to discuss an ordinance regulating recreational and medicinal marijuana operations in the county.

The board could take action on the proposal at that time.

Local marijuana growers have voiced support for the county providing them with authorization letters for submission to the state to gain a temporary business license. 

Licenses would be good for 120 days, with 90-day renewal options possible if a complete application is submitted. Letters would be used by medical cannabis growers to obtain business licenses from the state when the process for issuing temporary licenses begins later this year, according to county staff.

The state is initially planning to issue temporary licenses versus permanent ones since it won’t meet the Jan. 1 deadline of implementing permanent rules for the sale of marijuana, as well as the operation of so-called pot shops.

Wolf said she couldn’t support the move to potentially provide growers with authorization letters when no one even knows what the state wants to see in such a document. 

“It kind of came out of thin air for me,” Wolf said. “I didn’t even know it was a possibility. We don’t even know what a letter of authorization is. I get that it is really good for (growers) to have, but it’s not right for the county.”

Wolf believes it would be folly to move forward with issuing the letters, which could also address whether an individual has odor-control measures in place, as well as property-owner consent for their grows, when there is no tax plan or fee structure in place locally for cannabis operations.

She also wants to see the county focus on getting its own ordinance regulating recreational and medicinal marijuana crafted and adopted before becoming involved with the state’s issuance of temporary licenses.

“That is what everyone has wanted us to do,” Wolf said about the county’s ordinance. “We are already behind schedule. I think it’s the wrong thing for us to be doing.” 

County staff has been working for the last year to craft new rules to regulate the growing, sale and distribution of cannabis after California voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016 legalizing recreational marijuana. The county’s ordinance is expected to be adopted in March 2018.

The supervisors banned growing, distributing and selling recreational marijuana earlier this year so planning staff could develop the new, permanent rules for both recreational and medical marijuana operations. 

Wolf also said it was her belief the county would be violating that ban if it agreed to provide growers with the requested authorization letters that would also identify them as legal nonconforming operations.

County rules currently prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries and most medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas.

Supervisors Das Williams and Steve Lavagnino, who both sat on a county ad hoc committee that looked at how to regulate marijuana operations, favored providing the letters to growers, which both men said would help weed out the “bad actors.” 

“I want to remove those people and I want to support the industry that wants to do that,” Lavagnino said.

Williams didn’t want the county to stay silent when it’s his belief “silence is complied consent,” he said.

Growers have repeatedly told the supervisors they want to be in compliance with county regulations, as well as state rules, and don’t want to participate in illegal activity.

More than a dozen growers spoke during Tuesday’s hearing, with all rging the elected officials to adopt a process for providing them with the requested letters.

“We understand it isn’t perfect,” Brian Adam said about the proposal. “We are starting something new, and we are looking or something legal. Somewhere someone gave you the chance to be responsible. We are asking for the same thing.”

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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