Medical marijuana cultivation debated in SLO, Pismo Beach

The Associated Press

Lengthy discussions on medical marijuana were heard in several parts of the Central Coast this week, as city and county officials grappled with their response to new state laws regulating therapeutic cannabis.

In San Luis Obispo, the City Council unanimously reaffirmed its longstanding interpretation that commercial medical marijuana cultivation is prohibited under the city’s zoning regulations — though the city does not actively seek out anyone growing medical marijuana for personal use.

In Pismo Beach, the City Council decided to pursue a ban on medical marijuana cultivation, despite some protest from residents that the ban could potentially target people growing a couple of plants in their homes for their own use.

San Luis Obispo County supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to draft an urgency ordinance regulating medical marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas, using as a template a Mendocino County law that limits the number and location of plants. Both the Arroyo Grande City Council and Planning Commission have previously discussed a ban, and an ordinance is scheduled to once again go before the council on Jan. 14.

Outside the county, the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday approved a ban on growing medical marijuana, while allowing deliveries in the city, the online news site Noozhawk reported.

All were acting in response to the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which sets a March 1 deadline for local governments to have regulations or ordinances in place that govern medical marijuana cultivation or the state Department of Food and Agriculture will become the sole licensing authority by default.

It’s been nearly 20 years since California voters approved Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, which makes it legal for patients and their designated primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use with a physician’s approval.

But local governments continue to debate where medical marijuana can be grown and sold, and the state’s deadline has sent some officials scrambling to retain local control of the issue.

We’ve just got to go forward with this. The state is going forward. We can’t stay where we are.

Bryan Davis, San Luis Obispo

Assembly bills 243 and 266 and Senate Bill 643 created an extensive statewide regulatory system for the cultivation, manufacture, testing, storage, dispensing, distribution and transport of medical marijuana.

“We aren’t banning anyone’s personal use for medical reasons,” San Luis Obispo Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said. “But we are basically protecting the city’s rights to have local control over licensing businesses.”

San Luis Obispo

Each of the meetings this week drew a crowd of medical marijuana advocates, growers or users who urged local officials to allow cultivation and related businesses, and spoke of the danger of a black market springing up if a ban were to be enacted.

“It’s very few times that you find people who want to get regulated,” San Luis Obispo resident Dan Shinn told the SLO council. “Most people want to be on the up and up, and we’re trying to find exactly where we stand on that.”

There was confusion and concern in San Luis Obispo from some residents worried the city would ban cultivation for personal use. A few urged the city to pass new rules regulating mobile and storefront dispensaries.

A discussion on medical marijuana regulation could be raised in the future, but for now, city staff plans to keep an eye on the state law and the county’s ordinance. San Luis Obispo has consistently declined to process applications for brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries or to issue licenses for mobile delivery services in the city.

The council last year tabled a proposed ordinance that would have banned mobile dispensaries and prohibited marijuana plants from being grown outside. Instead, the council in April approved an ordinance regulating any offensive and persistent odors that waft across property lines.

Pismo Beach

Similar to San Luis Obispo, the Pismo Beach council meeting Tuesday night was characterized by confusion over whether a cultivation ban would potentially criminalize residents growing small amounts of medical marijuana for personal use — which is allowed under the Compassionate Use Act.

Pismo Beach Police Chief Jake Miller encouraged the council to pursue a ban, however, because of the difficulties of enforcing an ordinance that allows some residents to grow some plants.

“It’s much more black and white — you can or you can’t,” he said Tuesday. “Permissive regulatory actions that we take would be much more difficult depending on what we do, whether it is the amount of plants that can be grown, square footage, is it cubic or square feet, what can be seen or not seen, where can it be grown. ... So it becomes much more tedious and much more resource-draining, depending on how we enforce that.”

City attorney Dave Fleishman said violators would probably face an administrative citation, not a criminal one, and a fine. Fleishman also said the ordinance most likely would be complaint-driven, and police would not be actively searching for offenders.

Why take a prohibitive stance when our state is really on the path to full legalization?

Ronnie Taylor, Pismo Beach

Other speakers said that a ban was counterproductive now, since a recreational marijuana initiative likely will come before state voters in 2016.

“What do we really gain by going backward with regard to marijuana prohibition?” resident Ronnie Taylor said Tuesday night. “Why take a prohibitive stance when our state is really on the path to full legalization?”

Ultimately, the council decided to direct staff to pursue the ban so that it could keep local control over the topic, but noted that it would likely reconsider the ban if a recreational marijuana inititative passes next year.

“If we hear the cultivation issue isn’t working — if we hear from the chief we need to revisit this cultivation — then we can revisit it under our local control,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said. “But at this point we need to take charge of our city. So I feel as though we need to move forward with a ban at this point, and not try to wordsmith and come up with some sort of policy tonight that makes sense.”

The ordinance is scheduled to go before the council at its first meeting in January.

Tribune staff writer David Sneed contributed to this report.