To the dismay of marijuana advocates, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors majority held firm Friday in its leaning toward a strict set of rules that would severely limit where and how recreational marijuana is grown and sold in the county.
The board made a long list of changes to its proposed marijuana ordinance in front of a packed house of cannabis supporters Friday, including a plan to withhold cultivation permits from people who aren’t already registered with the county, and some who already are.
The meeting was a continuation of a hearing that began Tuesday to amend a draft cannabis land-use ordinance passed by the Planning Commission in September. The board did not adopt the ordinance and plans to come back Nov. 7, when additional public comment will be allowed.
In total, supervisors made 30 changes to the plan that would have allowed all cannabis activities — cultivation, distribution, dispensaries, manufacturing, testing and nurseries — in some zones of unincorporated areas of the county (those communities outside of city limits.)
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If the board adopts the ordinance as discussed Friday, they would include two sweeping regulations.
First, only people who registered with the county as a cooperative grow under the urgency ordinance last year would be able to apply for a permit to cultivate, until the board revisits the ordinance next year.
That would limit permits to a maximum of 141, indoor and outdoor. It would mean no new cultivators could apply and more than 100 people who registered their medical farms as personal or caregiver grows would not be eligible for a land-use permit.
The only exemptions would be for personal use, which allows six plants, and caregivers, which would allow one person to grow six plants for five patients. Farmers who grow up to 99 plants under Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana, would not be exempt from the land-use requirement, meaning many of them would be in violation of the county ordinance.
Second, brick-and-mortar dispensaries, and the food-truck model mobile dispensaries, would be prohibited. Deliveries would be allowed, including from cultivation sites.
On Tuesday, Supervisors John Peschong, Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold voted in a straw poll to prohibit dispensaries and the manufacturing and distribution of edibles, a move that prompted industry leaders to tell the board that it was “totally ignorant of how the industry works.”
On Friday, they rolled back the prohibition on edibles and instead decided to prohibit products shaped like animals, people and fruit (to protect children). The prohibition on dispensaries was not revisited except in public comment.
Multiple medicinal users said dispensaries are safer than delivery services, and they’re not interested in a stranger coming to their house.
“Brick-and-mortars are the safest way to get medicine,” said Crystal Griese, who cultivates medical marijuana but would not be eligible for a county permit if the current draft of the ordinance is adopted.
The split board had the two liberal supervisors, Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, supporting a more free-market approach, and the three conservative members supporting more strict regulations, resulting in some industry representatives to comment that the board is working from fear and prejudice.
Former Supervisor Mike Ryan was critical of the board majority, joking that he usually doesn’t side with Gibson.
“I think you are way over-regulating this industry. ... You’re over-thinking it,” Ryan said.
Industry consultant Tony Keith agreed.
“If it weren’t so damaging to so many people, it would be hysterical,” he said, arguing that the public voted for Proposition 64 and they want “fair and reasonable regulations.”
Compton’s most-cited concern was protecting neighboring residences from the odor of cannabis grows, including indoor grows, which she said have resulted in her fielding complaints from constituents. Those concerns led to some of the more specific restrictions, including that indoor growing operations be limited to a half-acre.
Huasna Valley resident Diane Moody thanked Compton and said she felt like David going against Goliath when she spoke against embracing the cannabis industry out of concern for protecting the nature of her neighborhood.
The proposal to restrict cultivation permits to a fraction of those who already registered with the county was put forward by Arnold, who said she wanted to work with the local businesses to keep them going. She later raised concern that those who registered with the county as personal grows wouldn’t be able to apply for a permit.
“In the last two years, I have been very open-minded to the industry. ... I’m here today to work with you, to help reduce conflict and help the industry become a good neighbor and healthy industry,” she said.
In response, Gibson said, “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”
The proposed regulations re-enforced some cannabis advocates’ criticism of Proposition 64: that local regulations would drive them out.
“I see absolutely no proof that the decision the Board of Supervisors made today is what the industry was desiring. The industry has been working fine under Proposition 215,” said Kephas Neuhs, a law student who has grown medical marijuana in the county for 20 years. If the current draft of the ordinance is adopted, he would not be eligible for a county land-use permit to cultivate.
Others who were hopeful to enter the business legally and with permits under new regulations urged the board to shift position.
“I’m ready to start my business and apply for state and local permits. I don’t want to wait, and neither do people I want to hire,” said Edward Kelly.