With a March 1 deadline looming, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors directed staff to begin drafting an urgency ordinance that would regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana in the county.
A recently enacted state law requires local governments have ordinances in place by March 1 that govern medical marijuana cultivation or the state will retain sole control by default.
County administrators said there is a good chance the state Legislature will extend the March 1 deadline in order to give local governments more time to comply. But to be safe, supervisors directed staff to develop an emergency ordinance that could be enacted by the end of February.
“A wait-and-see mode will leave us in the dust,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said. “This is something we need to get out in front of or we are going to get trampled here.”
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The San Luis Obispo City Council also discussed its response to the state law Tuesday night, voting unanimously to approve a resolution reaffirming the city’s longstanding interpretation that medical marijuana cultivation is prohibited in San Luis Obispo because it is not allowed under the city’s zoning regulations.
Under the city’s so-called permissive zoning code, any use that is not listed as allowed or conditionally allowed is prohibited.
San Luis Obispo has consistently declined to process applications for brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries or to issue licenses for mobile delivery services operating within the city. Commercial cultivation operations are also prohibited, though the city does not actively seek out anyone growing medical marijuana for personal use.
“We recognize that people do grow small amounts in areas that we’re not even aware and we’re not actively seeking that out,” City Attorney Christine Dietrick said.
The council heard from more than 20 people concerned that the city was going to prohibit cultivation from personal use or urging the city to pass new rules regulating medical marijuana businesses. That discussion might be raised in the future, but for now, city staff plans to keep an eye on the state law and the county’s ordinance.
The county’s urgency ordinance would be very similar to an emergency ordinance adopted by county supervisors in 2013 when they imposed limits on groundwater pumping in the Paso Robles groundwater basin. Such ordinances are good for only 45 days but can be extended for a maximum of two years.
County administrators will use a Mendocino County ordinance governing medical marijuana cultivation as a template and return to supervisors in January with some options. The Mendocino County ordinance was passed in 2012 and is considered a good starting point, said Emily Jackson with the county Administrative Office.
The Mendocino County law sets limits on where and how much medical marijuana can be cultivated. For example, it limits to 25 the number of plants that can be grown on a single parcel.
An ordinance is needed because current county regulations don’t allow for the cultivation of medical marijuana. The motion to move ahead with the urgency ordinance passed unanimously, but Supervisor Lynn Compton said she voted for it reluctantly.
Compton said she was hesitant because she wants to take more time to talk with law enforcement and others who would be affected by the ordinance and is concerned about unintended consequences. Most medical marijuana is grown in greenhouses, and all of the greenhouses in the county are located in her South County district, she said.
The item attracted more than two dozen public speakers. All of them urged the supervisors not to enact a cultivation ban. Many spoke of the palliative effects of medical marijuana and how it reduces pain and other effects of chronic medical conditions.
“I am the face of medical marijuana,” said Jean Sumrall of San Luis Obispo. “I would object to an outright ban because people like me would not get the medicine that we need.”
Others spoke of the danger of a black market springing up if a ban were to be enacted. They said illegal marijuana grows would also spring up and bring significant environmental damage with them.
“The biggest reason not to ban cultivation would be to avoid massive environmental impacts,” said Eric Greening of Atascadero.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson agreed the environmental damage caused by illegal grows is significant. He said an ordinance would supply his officers with guidelines needed to enforce marijuana laws.
“We have to do something,” he said. “I think the Mendocino ordinance is a good starting point.”
Staff writer Cynthia Lambert contributed to this report.