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County begins public hearings for proposed cannabis land use ordinance 

First study session scheduled for the July 27 Planning Commission meeting

–The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission is expected to begin public hearings on a draft of a cannabis land use ordinance at the July 27 meeting. A second public hearing is scheduled for August 10. County planning staff presented a draft of the proposed ordinance to the Board of Supervisors at the June 20 meeting. At the end of that meeting, the board determined that the draft ordinance should go to the planning commission for more review. Fifth District County Supervisor Debbie Arnold said that the county has been working on a cannabis land use ordinance since last July to take advantage of a “window of opportunity to develop our own ordinance,” before the State of California Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) laws go into effect on January 1.

The purpose of the ordinance is to regulate the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana in unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County. The proposed regulations address cannabis cultivation, cannabis nurseries, cannabis manufacturing and testing facilities, transport, sales, distribution, and dispensaries.

Arnold identified the California Valley in the Fifth District and the Nipomo area of the Fourth District, represented by Supervisor Lynn Compton, as areas that have seen the highest impacts from cannabis cultivation. Arnold said the remoteness and open land in the California Valley might make it seem like an ideal location for cannabis crops, but the almost “overnight influx of 250 to 300 growers” last year created problems that led to the supervisors passing an emergency ordinance in Sept. 2016. “The urgency ordinance established a baseline by asking growers to register with the planning department,” said Arnold. It did not eliminate the issues with water shortages in the California Valley or the threats to the sensitive environments and “endangered species in that area, or the litter and problems created by abandoned grows.” Arnold said that the remoteness of the area complicates law enforcement. “It’s not a quick response time to get out there. The type of crop brings its own issues. It is a high cash value crop in a remote area and an irrigated crop in a limited water area.”

Supervisor Compton said the Fourth District has become a popular growing area due to the availability of greenhouses that are used to grow flowers. “There are pros and cons to the greenhouses being converted. The flower industry is pretty much dead, but at the same time, we don’t want every greenhouse converted to marijuana growing. The greenhouses reduce the issue of the smell, use less water and there are fewer complaints from neighbors because the crops are not in view.” Compton is encouraging San Luis Obispo County residents to attend the upcoming Planning Commission meetings. “In the past, our meetings have been dominated by out of county interests with large scale commercial interests. It is important for county residents to be involved in this process.”

In May, the county filed five lawsuits against California Valley cannabis growers who were allegedly violating the urgency ordinance by not being registered with the county. Arnold confirmed that “The County has filed five lawsuits against cannabis growers in Cal Valley.  Two of the five have been dismissed because the owners voluntarily brought their property into compliance with the Urgency Ordinance and will not be growing marijuana on their property.  The other three lawsuits are ongoing.”

The intent of the urgency ordinance is to give county code enforcement and planning staff the ability to regulate cultivation until a complete cannabis land use ordinance is approved with provisions for taxation, cultivation, and distribution. County staff recommended the ordinance be renewed in September of this year.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.

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