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Planning Commission split over whether to limit number of permitted marijuana farms

San Luis Obispo County officials are mulling over regulations that will shape and oversee the budding industry of commercial cannabis, including nurseries that could sell starts to personal and commercial growers.
San Luis Obispo County officials are mulling over regulations that will shape and oversee the budding industry of commercial cannabis, including nurseries that could sell starts to personal and commercial growers. AP

How many marijuana farms will be allowed next year in the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County continues to be a question without a clear answer, as the county’s Planning Commission mulls over policy details that will shape the future of the local commercial cannabis industry.

Commissioners heard public comment and debated policy points of a draft cannabis ordinance Thursday that will create the regulations over commercial cannabis activities, including cultivation, nurseries, testing, manufacturing, dispensaries and delivery services. No decision was made, though which way they’re leaning on certain issues was clear.

They will return to the issue and likely vote to approve the ordinance on Sept. 14. After that, the ordinance heads to the Board of Supervisors and then the Coastal Commission. Commercial marijuana activities should be up and running in the county next year.

County staff have recommended a cap of 100 on the number of permits to be issued for marijuana cultivation. That proposal would prohibit all growing on the Carrizo Plain – where most grows that registered with the county are located – and distribute the permits among other areas of the county so 59 would be in the North County, five in San Luis Obispo, 23 in the South County and 13 in coastal areas.

Cultivators in the area are opposed to a cap. Some have said it would create “bad blood” among growers and arbitrarily limit an emerging industry that they say should be controlled only by a free market.

Commissioner Michael Multari said the limit would be “a mess” to manage, and “is encouraging a black market with an unfair and unmanageable quasi-lottery system.”

“I understand prohibition doesn’t work,” said Commissioner Jay Brown, who was appointed to the commission by Supervisor John Peschong earlier this week. “My concern is we jump into an unlimited situation. ... We can always add sites.”

A straw poll exposed a split opinion: Two commissioners support capping the number of permits, two oppose a cap, and one commissioner — Supervisor Lynn Compton’s appointee, Jim Harrison — is on the fence and expressed “major concerns about water on the (Nipomo) Mesa.”

On other points, commissioners generally accepted that the ordinance would:

▪  Prohibit cannabis cultivation on the Carrizo Plain.

▪  Require all cannabis businesses to submit a security plan to the Sheriff’s Office for approval.

▪  Make it a violation if marijuana odors can be detected off the property where the activity occurs.

▪  Require cultivators to offset water use in areas where groundwater basins are in overdraft, including in Paso Robles, the South County and Los Osos.

▪  Not restrict the number of permits distributed for nurseries, testing, manufacturing, dispensaries or delivery services.

▪  Count any violation of the ordinance as a misdemeanor. Violations can be assessed every day the violation occurs and for each plant.

▪  Limit and test for pesticide use.

The commission has yet to decide:

▪  Whether to allow volatile manufacturing to produce concentrated cannabis products in industrial areas.

▪  Whether commercial cannabis licenses can be sold.

▪  Whether to cap the number of cultivation sites and whether there should be a pool of permits for indoor and outdoor grows, and if there is a cap, what that cap should be.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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