The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a “use it or lose it” policy for commercial cannabis cultivation that gives growers a deadline to plant the amount of marijuana they proposed in their permit application.

Growers are required to plant their permitted acreage within three years or have the unused acreage removed from their permit and given to someone on the wait list.

Santa Barbara County adopted a marijuana cultivation acreage cap of 1,575 acres for areas outside the Carpinteria Valley and already reached it.   

Potential cultivators who received permits after the cap was reached are not allowed to grow.

They are on the county’s wait list and could receive acreage if other growers don’t plant their full permitted amount or don’t get their licenses renewed. Operators on the wait list have requested to cultivate about 220 acres of cannabis, according to the county.

The county makes millions of dollars per year from cannabis tax revenues and spends millions of dollars on cannabis permitting and enforcement, so the government has a huge incentive to make sure that people who have permits to grow are growing and selling.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to amend Chapter 50, which has regulations for cannabis operations licensing.

Chapter 50 was originally adopted in 2018 and has been amended several times since then because of unintended consequences of previous decisions, or issues that were unanticipated or overlooked earlier in the process.

The Board of Supervisors added the three-year deadline for growers to plant their full permitted amount or lose acreage, and allowed cannabis growers to fallow (leave the land unplanted) for up to one year, limited to once every three years.

The amendments also require cannabis cultivators to regularly plant at least 80% of their established acreage amount.

Santa Barbara County has about 40 licensed cultivators growing 400 to 500 acres right now, according to state license tracking, said Brittany Heaton, a cannabis policy analyst in the County Executive Office.

With the amendments, “we wanted to ensure that we were motivating operators to do what they said they were going to do,” she said.

County supervisors said the changes will help accountability and bring in tax revenues for operators who have permits.

“I don’t care about cannabis if it doesn’t give me any revenue,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

Tuesday’s vote was 4-1 to approve the amendments, with Supervisor Bob Nelson opposed.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at