With a goal of limiting the number of new marijuana grows in California Valley, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors passed urgency rules Tuesday banning any new cultivation of marijuana in the unincorporated areas of the county — but allowing existing sites to continue if they can prove the plants were under cultivation as of Aug. 23.
The ordinance, which passed on a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Adam Hill dissenting, would require the existing sites throughout the county to meet certain criteria to continue, such as having at least a 6-foot-tall fence to enclose the cultivation area. They would also be required to register with the county within 45 days. It contains exemptions for qualified patients or primary caregivers who also meet certain criteria.
The urgency ordinance goes into effect for 45 days, but could be extended for up to two years. The temporary rules will be in place while county staff draft a permanent ordinance regulating marijuana.
The supervisors’ vote came after a daylong hearing. They clashed when debating how far the interim rules should go to limit marijuana cultivation, with supervisors Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold favoring a stricter ordinance, while Hill sought fewer restrictions.
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“I’m not convinced that we have an emergency,” Hill said. “I think it’s more important for us to get the right policies in place.”
“With whatever might happen in November, it’s incumbent on us to regulate this industry as best we can,” he added, referring to Proposition 64, a statewide measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that would legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in California.
Arnold, whose district includes California Valley, a small community on the eastern edge of San Luis Obispo County, had proposed allowing growers there to harvest this year, then prohibiting cultivation in that area after Dec. 23 but allowing it to continue elsewhere in the county. But she failed to get support from Hill and Supervisor Bruce Gibson.
“We never saw this California Valley cannabis cultivation coming,” Arnold said. “With the limited availability of water and remoteness, I don’t think that is an appropriate place for cultivation.”
Gibson then suggested an urgency ordinance that would freeze cultivation to existing sites and give the county time to work on permanent rules, which was what the board approved at the end of the day.
The supervisors’ action comes nearly two months after county Sheriff Ian Parkinson told supervisors the proliferation of medical marijuana grows in California Valley — about 100 since the beginning of spring, and more than 200 now — presents his agency with a host of problems.
On Tuesday, he said his department has received 260 calls for service from California Valley so far in 2016, compared with 265 in all of 2015. There were 108 calls in 2011.
“This is not about marijuana per se; it’s about the safety of a community,” Parkinson said, adding that there have been a number of calls about thefts of equipment and plants, and discharge of weapons from moving vehicles.
County officials estimate there are more than 500 medical marijuana cultivation sites in the county. On Tuesday, the supervisors heard from more than 25 people, including owners of collectives and growers, some of whom urged the county to pass permanent rules for them to follow, not an outright ban.
“Let’s not close this window on an employment opportunity as we close the doors on Diablo Canyon (nuclear power plant),” said Steve Fagan, a grower and collective owner with SLOGrown Genetics.
Others said they hadn’t experienced crime problems in California Valley, and that they take care to respect the environment. But a few residents, and a California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist, disputed that the cultivation sites haven’t had a significant impact on the area.
Dave Hacker, a staff environmental scientist, said there are direct and indirect impacts to rare, threatened and endangered species: the San Joaquin kit fox, giant kangaroo rat and the San Joaquin antelope squirrel.
“Every plot has displaced habitat for one or all of these species,” he said. “I can say with certainty that listed species are being poisoned” with rodenticides used to protect the plants.
Lindi Doud was one a few residents who urged the supervisors to pass the ordinance. She said the area suffered extreme stress because of the solar projects, “and now this onslaught of clearing acreage, fencing and draining the parched aquifer to water these thirsty cannabis crops is the coup de grace.”