SLO County farmworkers worry cannabis regulations could cut jobs
A large cannabis business in Nipomo is being forced to shut down after the county Board of Supervisors stripped its permitting Tuesday, citing multiple code violations and saying it was intentionally thwarting regulations and would likely continue to operate in bad faith.
Supervisors unanimously ruled to revoke the conditional use permit previously granted by the county Planning Commission in November to CFAM Management Group at 887 Mesa Road, which has a record of cannabis odors wafting into the surrounding neighborhood and unpermitted processing and manufacturing, according to county staff.
CFAM was required to cease all cannabis operations immediately, effective after Tuesday’s decision, according to county staff.
CFAM had received permission for cannabis operations of up to 22,000 square feet of mixed-light indoor cultivation, about 264,000 square feet of indoor nursery, about 4,200 square feet of tissue culture lab and nearly 42,800 of drying and processing.
Residents Sally Dean, Pamela Kremza, Ron and Linda Ralphs and Judy Murphy were appealing the Planning Commission’s approval of the permit.
Largest marijuana farm in the county
CFAM started as a medical marijuana collective in May 2016 at the location of the former Clearwater Nursery, a flower farm, and was the largest cannabis farm in the county. That was before the county passed its cannabis ordinance, which forced the operation to cut production by at least 90 percent.
In December 2017, the collective employed at least 75 people to cultivate between 260,000 and 299,000 square feet of marijuana plants with a payroll somewhere between $3 million and $4 million, according to previous Tribune reporting.
CFAM was working with consultant Sean Donahoe in an effort to overturn the ordinance, according to previous Tribune reporting. Donahoe said at the time that the company was worried it would have to cease operations. Donahoe told The Tribune Friday that he no longer works for the company and “has no comment and wants to move on” from it.
CFAM attorney Mike Azat said the cannabis company had been working to address neighbor concerns, and was willing to commit to a $200,000 equipment investment to control smells. Azat argued a shutdown would be too punitive, considering the company was working to comply with neighbor concerns.
He also said some of the complaints about smell weren’t specific enough to easily address.
“There will be growing pains with this kind of industry,” Azat said. “There’s going to be growing pains and misunderstandings.”
But Supervisor Lynn Compton said the business had a long history of “nauseous smells,” unpermitted structures and admonished the company, saying it only tried to remedy the situation when it got caught.
Pattern of enforcement issues
The board received a staff report that showed the company had a pattern of cannabis enforcement issues over several months, most of them related to odors, which were supposed to be controlled and contained to the site.
“We can’t have a community that is going to tolerate these kinds of conflicts on and on and on,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.
In March, the business also was cited for “unpermitted processing and manufacturing and utilization of unpermitted structures.”
The business was processing cannabis products from an off-site supplier, which violated its permitting conditions, county staff members said. The board considered whether the company could effectively remedy the problems and ensure compliance.
“I believe they will continue to operate in bad faith,” Supervisor John Peschong said.
One woman who lives near the site spoke at the hearing saying that her family was nauseated by the smells coming from the business.
She said bright lights from the CFAM property shone into their home, and added that their young son expressed concern about the security of their neighborhood because of the business.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture also has opened an investigation into potential state violations related to illegal subletting, and a search warrant was served at the site March 13, the county’s staff report noted.
The state investigation remains open, the staff report stated.