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SLO County begins drafting rules for commercial marijuana businesses

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors are considering ordinances regulating the commercial marijuana industry.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors are considering ordinances regulating the commercial marijuana industry.

San Luis Obispo County is looking for recommendations from the public on what rules to impose on commercial marijuana activities in unincorporated areas, before the state begins issuing licenses to those businesses next year.

When California voters legalized recreational marijuana with Proposition 64 in November, cultivation of up to six plants for personal use immediately became legal and a Jan. 1, 2018, date was set for the state to begin licensing commercial growing operations. The law also gives counties and cities authority to regulate cultivation with a local licensing program.

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On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors began work on a draft county land use ordinance that will apply to medical and nonmedical commercial cultivation. Supervisors and marijuana industry representatives considered the finer points of a burgeoning industry, such as a limit on the number of commercial grows the county will allow, whether to consider marijuana as a specialty agricultural crop, and setback distances intended to address concerns about odors.

Supervisors agreed the draft was a good start and expressed interest in balancing the new industry with quality-of-life issues and existing industries.

Have your say: Public meetings on commericial marijuana proposal 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 5 at the county Department of Social Services, 406 Spring St. in Paso Robles. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 6 at the county Board of Supervisors chambers, 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 12 at the Nipomo Community Services District, 148 S. Wilson St. in Nipomo.

“As we work toward coming up with some fair and equitable rules to welcome your industry into the agricultural component of our economy, I want to say that your commodity is valuable,” Supervisor Debbie Arnold said. “You can recognize revenues that are higher per acre than probably most agricultural commodities I can think of.”

Without permanent rules and faced with a sudden influx of medical marijuana grows last spring, the Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance that created a moratorium on new grows and required existing sites to be registered with the county. As a result, more than 400 medical marijuana cultivation sites registered — mostly cooperative or collective grows.

County staff estimates there are 800 to 1,000 grows in unincorporated areas, excluding personal grows of fewer than six plants.

Cannabis industry representatives on Tuesday raised concern with the draft ordinance, including a proposal to limit the number of permitted commercial marijuana cultivation sites to 100. Those crops would not be allowed within areas zoned as residential/suburban, such as California Valley, where a concentration of marijuana gardens has blossomed.

Proposition 64 establishes one ounce of marijuana, or 8 grams of cannabis concentrates, as the legal limit for recreational pot possession for adults over age 21. Here are examples of actual amounts of products someone could carry now that Califor

Growers and product manufactures also raised issue with a proposed setback standard. As drafted, the ordinance would require outdoor plants to be no closer than 300 feet from property lines and 100 feet for indoor plants to address odor — an issue Supervisor Lynn Compton has heard from her constituents.

“I do have complaints right now. In a nursery, everybody thinks the smell is contained,” Compton said. “It is not. Neighbors are complaining about the big nurseries in my area.”

Wes Burk, who said he is a member of the California Cannabis Industry Association, said those fine points would have unintended consequences.

In a nursery, everybody thinks the smell is contained. It is not.

Supervisor Lynn Compton

“While I understand what you’re trying to accomplish with the setbacks, you do create a scenario that really tilts the scales to the big, industrial-type farmer,” Burk said. “When you’ve got setbacks that create the necessity to have something the size of a 10-acre parcel where property values are what they are on the Central Coast, you really make it difficult for the small, artisinal participant to have a chance of survival here.”

That’s the kind of issue that could be changed based on public feedback. Opportunities for input will continue through three upcoming public meetings in April. After staff gathers input and adjusts the ordinance, new proposed regulations are expected to come before the county Planning Commission in late June or July. Their recommendations will return to the Board of Supervisors in late August or September.

The issues of licensing and taxation won’t be addressed through the ordinance. The county will be considering whether to place a cannabis-related taxation measure on the June 2018 ballot. The board is expected to discuss potential approaches later this year.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

Results from the 2016 election brought about new rules on the use of recreational and medicinal marijuana in several states, with more than half now allowing for the later. Federal government leaders including president-elect Trump have voiced the

Have your say

The public is invited to comment on the county’s proposed rules for commercial marijuana activities. Three meetings will be held in April.

  • April 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the county Department of Social Services, 406 Spring St. in Paso Robles.
  • April 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the county Board of Supervisors chambers, 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo.
  • April 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Nipomo Community Services District, 148 S. Wilson St. in Nipomo.
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