SLO County cities approve marijuana cultivation bans

Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin and Councilman Fred Strong discuss a ban on medical marijuana cultivation within city limits at the council meeting on Jan. 5.
Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin and Councilman Fred Strong discuss a ban on medical marijuana cultivation within city limits at the council meeting on Jan. 5. kleslie@thetribunenews.com

As local governments throughout San Luis Obispo County rush to beat a state deadline to draft laws regulating medical marijuana growth, a trio of cities became the first to officially approve those ordinances this week.

First up was Grover Beach, where the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday night banning cultivation, with the exception of personal cultivation allowed by state law.

In Paso Robles and Pismo Beach on Tuesday night, both city councils decided to pass complete bans while they wait to see what happens with proposed changes to recent state legislation on cultivation.

All three meetings drew crowds, with residents speaking both in support of and against bans on medical marijuana cultivation.

The ordinances are in response to the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which set a March 1 deadline for local governments to have laws in place governing medical marijuana cultivation or the state Department of Food and Agriculture would become the sole licensing authority by default.

Since early November, cities across California have scrambled to come up with ordinances in advance of the bill’s March 1 deadline.

That deadline was included in the bill by accident, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, announced in an open letter to city and county officials Dec. 17. Wood, who co-authored the legislation, also announced his intention to pass urgency legislation that would negate the erroneous deadline.

Despite that announcement, many agencies have continued to take steps toward drafting and approving bans.

Grover Beach

On Monday, Grover Beach became the first city in the county to enact a ban in response to the state legislation, but the City Council emphasized that the ordinance was just a stopgap and not the final word on medical marijuana regulation in the city.

“One thing I know about this is I just don’t know enough, and I want to know more,” Councilwoman Mariam Shah said at Monday night’s meeting. “My main concern was just not having anyone’s daily life or what they are doing now turned upside down.”

The council unanimously approved an ordinance banning commercial cultivation of medical marijuana within city limits, and it additionally directed staff to return after March 1 with more options for how the city could further regulate medical marijuana distribution in the future.

“I’m willing to support this ordinance — with some of those minor modifications — with the intent ... that we work toward presenting or having staff come back with a more comprehensive look,” Councilman Jeff Lee said during the discussion.

The new ban does not apply to personal cultivation allowed under the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, 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. Under the act, patients are allowed to grow plants on up to 100 square feet of land. Primary caregivers are allowed to grow on up to 500 square feet.

Paso Robles

Though members of the Paso Robles City Council briefly toyed with the idea of allowing personal cultivation in the city (called option B in the council’s staff report), they ultimately voted in favor of a complete ban (called option A).

“By not allowing cultivation under option A here, we are not denying anyone access to their medicine,” Mayor Steve Martin said. “The fact that someone requires medical marijuana — and we’ve said, ‘Yes, you can have it delivered to your home’ — does not by natural, logical extension mean now you should be able to grow it in your home.”

The council decided on a full ban, rather than one with allowances for personal growth, in part because of worry that the looming March 1 — however questionable — deadline did not allow enough time to draft a complete regulatory structure for cultivation.

“If we’re going to start getting into the tall grass about the options on who gets to grow, where it gets to be grown and what quantities get to be grown, that’s not something we’ve done sufficient study on or received sufficient public input tonight to make an educated, qualified and fair decision,” Martin said. “So the option logically and action tonight is to go with option A.”

Pismo Beach

In Pismo Beach, much of the discussion Tuesday night centered on whether the city should follow Grover Beach’s lead and allow personal cultivation or follow staff’s recommendation to approve a complete ban.

“I’m still really torn over this medicinal backyard stuff — I’ve never been in favor of it,” Councilwoman Sheila Black said. “However, I’d hate to be one of three cities locally to do the different thing.”

Both Pismo Beach police Chief Jake Miller and City Attorney Dave Fleishman recommended the city pass a complete ban on medical marijuana cultivation in the city, while Councilman Erik Howell pushed for a ban only on commercial cultivation.

“I actually think that we are in danger of litigation if we do ban cultivation for medicinal reasons,” Howell said. “So I’m in favor of banning commercial cultivation and leaving it at that.”

Ultimately, the council voted 4-1, with Howell dissenting, to pass a complete ban while it waits to see if the March 1 deadline is successfully removed from the Regulation and Safety Act.

“Am I open to further discussion? Absolutely,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said Tuesday. “But I’m not going to do it with five minutes or 15 days. On March 1, the state takes over, and I’m not willing to do that.”

All three ordinances will return to their respective city councils for a second reading Jan. 19. Grover Beach will hold its normally Monday-scheduled meeting on a Tuesday because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18.

If approved at those meetings, the ordinances will go into effect after a 30-day review period.

Want to know more about the history of medical marijuana legislation in San Luis Obispo County? Check out our timeline:

More on the way

Several other cities and San Luis Obispo County have yet to make final decisions regarding medical marijuana cultivation. Here they are, and when they are next scheduled to discuss the topic:

Arroyo Grande: After the Planning Commission issued a hesitant recommendation to consider banning cultivation, the City Council is expected to discuss a complete ban Jan. 14.

Atascadero: The Planning Commission recommended a complete ban on cultivation in December, and the City Council is expected to discuss the ban Jan. 12.

San Luis Obispo County: The Board of Supervisors on Dec. 15 directed staff to draft an urgency ordinance that would regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county. It will return to the board at an as-yet unscheduled meeting.

Morro Bay: The City Council is scheduled to discuss an ordinance and a resolution regarding medical marijuana regulations Jan. 12.