SLO County should lighten up on outdoor pot farms

Recreational weed is now legal in California. So what does that mean?

In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of Ballotpedia.com.
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In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of Ballotpedia.com.

How’s this for a disparity?

The latest version of San Luis Obispo County’s marijuana ordinance — which is still in draft form — allows an unlimited number of permits for indoor cannabis grows, but caps the number for outdoor grows in unincorporated areas at 50.

Those 50 permits would be distributed by planning area: 30 for the North County and 11 for South County. The coastal zone would get only seven, with the rest going to rural San Luis Obispo. No cultivation would be allowed in the Carrizo planning area, which includes California Valley.

The county Planning Commission recommended the 50 outdoor/unlimited indoor option after considering a number of alternatives — including no numerical limit on permits at all. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will discuss whether to stick with the Planning Commission’s recommendation or adopt a different formula.

We urge the board to increase the number of outdoor permits — 100 seems more realistic — or choose a formula that’s not so heavily weighted in favor of indoor cultivation.

Another idea: Release a certain number of permits per year, to give county staff time to ramp up.

We agree it’s better to be cautious in the beginning of this recreational marijuana boom, but capping the number of outdoor grows at 50 goes too far.

It practically guarantees black market cultivation, which will be a challenge for law enforcement and impossible to tax. And without adequate tax revenue, the county will have to dip into its general fund to pay for the additional staff needed to enforce cannabis regulations.

Larry and Candice Montenegro were struggling to pay the bills living in California Valley near Carrizo Plain. But now Larry Montengro delivers water pumped from his own two wells to about 60 marijuana growers in the area. They say the cannabis ind

We’re concerned, too, that small growers would be disadvantaged by the cap, as there’s more upfront investment involved with indoor cultivation and ongoing energy costs are higher.

There have been concerns about the pungent smell associated with outdoor grows, but under the county’s proposed rules, it will be a permit violation if odors can be detected off-site — and violations can lead to a permit revocation.

There are several other proposed conditions, including minimum setbacks, screening and security measures. In areas where water is scarce, marijuana growers will have to offset water use on a 1:1 ratio — meaning they’ll have to find water savings to make up for the water they consume.

These are strenuous conditions; if applicants can meet all the requirements, why are they being penalized for growing outdoors?

Another concern: How will the county decide who gets the limited number of permits? A point system? A lottery?

And what’s the rationale behind assigning each area a certain number of permits? What if there are far more applications in one area of the county than in another?

Cannabis has an outlaw reputation — it’s not viewed as an agricultural commodity like alfalfa or lettuce or wine grapes.

The county could have shut the door on permitting cultivation entirely, as some other jurisdictions have done. It chose to regulate, rather than prohibit, and we believe that’s wise.

We’ve also been impressed that the county has been concerned that smaller, local growers aren’t at a disadvantage.

In discussing the taxation of cannabis, Board Chairman John Peschong had this to say: “The people I know that want to be in this business are not large corporations. They’re small family businesses, and I don’t want to suffocate them out.”

That’s fair. We urge the Board of Supervisors to keep that in mind on Tuesday.

After California's passage of the Proposition 64 recreational marijuana initiative, authorities are on guard for impaired drivers for alcohol, pot, prescription drugs or all of the above. California Highway Patrol training supervisor explains the

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