Ready to buy local, legal pot in SLO? Conservative officials want to limit your options

Some San Luis Obispo County supervisors want to put a cap on the number of marijuana farms in the county.
Some San Luis Obispo County supervisors want to put a cap on the number of marijuana farms in the county. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It’s likely that you’ll soon be able to buy legal, locally grown marijuana in San Luis Obispo County. But if conservative county supervisors have their way, local consumer options may be limited.

The core of the issue is whether San Luis Obispo County will cap the number of licenses it issues to marijuana farms, which could limit the local supply. Licenses for cannabis businesses are expected to be issued in 2018, fulfilling the will of California voters who supported legalized use of marijuana for adults 21 and over last November.

In preparation, the county is in the process of writing rules for how marijuana businesses operate, from set-back requirements at grow operations, to whether mobile dispensaries will be required to have a brick-and-mortar storefront.

A recent draft of those rules included a cap on local marijuana farms to 100.

Those in the industry, including growers, policy advisers and medical users, all implored the supervisors to at least increase the cap — if not get rid of it all together — at a Board of Supervisors meeting this week.

“We’re going to need a lot more than 100 permits to provide safe, accessible cannabis medication for our patients in this county,” said Crystal Gries, who uses medical marijuana to manage pain associated with a broken neck.

More than 100 farmers want to grow marijuana. Already, 305 operations are registered with the county under an emergency ordinance. More than 450 applied for the registration, and there are likely many more that didn’t register.

That means — despite legalization — if a cap is implemented, hundreds of farms would be shut down or forced back into the black market by the county’s regulations. A cap could limit potential tax revenue, critics say.

“Any limit on the amount of cultivations would be arbitrary,” said Nicolas Pitchon, who said he came to the United States from Argentina with a belief that the United States is the land of opportunity. “A limit goes against our fundamental values, would strain our county’s resources with a controversial selection process, limit tax revenue and worse of all, promote a black market that wouldn’t care about the laws in place to protect consumers from molds and pesticides or keeping access away from children.”

Let the zoning rules and the free market determine who should be cultivating, he and others said.

The county’s two left-leaning supervisors support a laissez-faire approach, while two right-wing supervisors said they want stricter government regulations.

“I don’t want us to say who is going to win and who is going to lose based on arbitrary numbers,” Supervisor Adam Hill said. “I’m not always the promoter of free market values. But there’s certain things that work best, and agriculture products do work best in a free market.”

“We need to be humble in how we regulate cannabis. This is brave and uncharted territory,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who also opposes a limit.

Supervisor Lynn Compton, however, said there has to be some kind of cap, or grows will be “out of control.” Most marijuana growers operate in her district around Nipomo or in Supervisor Debbie Arnold’s district, which includes California Valley. They said they both receive calls from neighbors of marijuana farms who complain about smell.

Compton also doesn’t view marijuana as an agricultural crop “like the traditional ag growers.”

“When you look at any other crop in this county for the most part, or vegetables, etc., those are long-term family farms that have been growing the same crop for years,” Compton said. “For cannabis, these are all new people that have just gotten into the business. It’s a completely different learning curve.”

While Arnold said she’s “the last one that wants to take someone’s legal business down by creating a regulation to the point that they’re not compliant anymore,” her goal is to reduce conflict between neighbors through regulation.

“The one lesson we’ve all learned in these new industries — the wine industry, the event industry, the tourism industry — is we’ve had problems with neighborhood conflict,” Arnold said. “And my goal would be to reduce that.”

Chairman of the board, John Peschong, said he supports a cap but did not say why.

The draft rules will next go to the Planning Department to be discussed at a public hearing July 27.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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