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90 cannabis farms are blatantly ignoring the ban in California Valley, SLO County says

Cannabis cultivation in California Valley, like this farm shown in a June 2017 photo, is no longer allowed as of December 31, 2017.
Cannabis cultivation in California Valley, like this farm shown in a June 2017 photo, is no longer allowed as of December 31, 2017. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A marijuana boom that landed in the dusty rural community of California Valley was supposedly halted by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors with new regulations that went into effect Jan. 31, 2017.

But county employees recently discovered about 90 newly established grow sites in the valley, some with plants in the ground.

Growers told the employees of “their full intention to continue to cultivate in the valley” despite the ban, according to a February staff report from the Planning and Building Department.

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That’s against the rules that the board created in November about growing cannabis in unincorporated areas of the county, which included a prohibition on cultivation in areas zoned as residential suburban, like California Valley on the Carrizo Plain. The county plans to begin enforcement action as soon as March.

Hundreds of people had flocked to the valley in 2016 to set up marijuana farms. In 2017, about 180 cultivation sites in the area were registered with the county.

Some people have abandoned their land, in some cases leaving behind garbage in the area that is considered critical habitat for federally listed endangered species. But not everyone, it seems, is willing to uproot their plants.

Regulations passed by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors require a cannabis farm to reduce in size by 90 percent. Workers asked them to reconsider, and to save their jobs.

Some cultivators have told The Tribune that they don’t believe the county has the authority to enforce the prohibition, as they are cultivating under the permissions of Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

They could soon be hit with fines and have their plants ripped out.

“We’re hoping to get out there to have active code enforcement in March,” said Art Trinidade, code enforcement supervisor for the county. He said that a cleanup effort to clear abandoned land could also happen the same month.

The county has taken note of the locations of the new grow sites and posted signs that say cannabis cultivation is no longer allowed there. It’s planning to take further action with the newly established cannabis hearing officer, who can conduct administrative hearings, issue fines and order plants removed through a nuisance abatement process.

It’s intended to be much quicker than the court system, the county would tear out plants without going through the Superior Court to receive a restraining order from a judge — a process that has traditionally taken months, could instead take a few weeks.

Update: This story has been updated to include details about the county’s enforcement efforts and to remove inaccurate statements from a former farmer in California Valley.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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