Letter: It’s time to oppose cannabis industrialization in SLO County
To the editor,
It is time to oppose the advancement of commercial cannabis production in San Luis Obispo County.
The underlying problem is very simple. The existence of industrialized cannabis in and amongst our communities is an affliction and burden to residents. Given that commercial cannabis operations around children and families is clearly not good for them, how could it possibly be good for SLO County? Our homes and neighborhoods are a safe place, a refuge, a haven.
Furthermore, commercial cannabis:
- Poses excessive water use, adversely impacting neighbors’ wells in a time of extreme drought Introduces fire hazards during extraction/manufacturing on agricultural lands, especially those in high fire severity zones.
- Has unknown and unstudied environmental impacts on health, agricultural lands and businesses.
- It is not wanted by local communities and neighborhoods who face intolerable degradation in their quality of life.
The magnitude of the problem
By far, the greatest threats imposed by cannabis production involve its size, function and proximity to sensitive surroundings such as family homes, children, agricultural operations, schools, churches and the like. As written, a commercial ‘marijuana cannabis’ grower in SLO County may cultivate 3.75 acres of the hallucinogen a mere three hundred feet from a neighbor’s property line. This is enough cannabis – likely between 10,000 and 15,000 plants – to cover three football fields; shockingly the county will permit this a mere goal post’s distance from a family home. The most afflicted residents face multiple surrounding grows – 8, 12, or even 16 or more acres of cannabis – because our Planning Department and public officials blatantly failed to limit the ‘concentration’ of cannabis production sites. That’s just outdoor cultivation. Some neighbors face the stench-producing effects of large, leaky greenhouses operating year around. Growing, drying and processing of that much cannabis well exceeds the personal six plant allowance of Proposition 64.
And yes, crimes have also been reported at our local pot farms, crimes that would not have occurred had there been no cannabis there. Neighbors face this undeserved risk whether it’s marijuana or hemp cannabis, and whether or not the cannabis grower is an active participant in the crime.
As one might expect, today’s rules were developed by the SLO County Planning Department working closely with the cannabis industry. Needless to say, their regulations and permitting track record show a reprehensible lack of consideration to our communities. For example, they’ve reduced setbacks to well below minimums, approved cannabis projects next to schools (e.g., Edna Road, San Luis Obispo), supported industrial cannabis processing next to a place of worship (a few dozen feet from a Templeton church’s property line) and approved large, odiferous pot farms next to residents’ homes (e.g., N. River road project in San Miguel).
How it happened
After being sold a bill of goods by cannabis lobbyists, SLO County officials pursued commercial cannabis for its promise of new drug tax money. In 2018, they asked our electorate to pass Measure F-18, SLO County’s cannabis tax. In doing so, County officials bypassed asking constituents whether industrial cannabis manufacturing should be allowed their communities in the first place. Recalling that Proposition 64 legalized use and possession only, it did not authorize cannabis industrialization in neighborhoods or anywhere else for that matter. That was entirely the work of our County Board of Supervisors and Planning Department who were sold the bill of goods. While most counties in California rejected commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, our county officials didn’t. Now they need to repair the damage.
They still haven’t fixed it
Last August 18th, two Supervisors – Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton – showed genuine fidelity to their constituents by attempting to fix the serious flaws in our commercial cannabis ordinance, but at the end of the Board’s meeting they were overruled by Supervisors Peschong and Gibson. In that 2:2 vote the Board of Supervisors failed to adopt ANY of the eight ‘Phase 3’ cannabis ordinance improvements they specifically directed the Planning Department to develop a year and a half earlier, effectively greenlighting the industrialization of cannabis we’re now seeing next to homes, schools and now, places of worship.The most vital improvement our communities needed was a recalibration of what are considered sensitive sites (called ‘sensitive receptors’ according to California environmental law). Instead, our split Board defended the current rules as sacrosanct and completely failed to consider the root causes of the disasters in Santa Barbara County and elsewhere, i.e., the negative cumulative impact of a cannabis operation’s size, function and proximity. Given that the county’s 141 ‘currently available’ cannabis cultivation permits were discretionary in the first place – and that cannabis is not a ‘right to farm’ commodity – it was only appropriate that our Board of Supervisors consider the overwhelmingly negative feedback our communities and others have expressed based on actual experience.
Contrary to the cannabis industry’s claims that the ‘train has left the station’, the damage they and county officials are inflicting on our homes and communities is, in fact, reversible. Our communities can and must aggressively protect family homes, neighborhoods, and other sensitive sites from irresponsible and incompatible cannabis production, and yes, they can absolutely do this without being ‘anti-pot’. Investors in commercial cannabis in SLO County need to understand that they are, at any time, just three votes away from witnessing an end to this failed experiment and watching their cannabis permits expire. Simply put, there are better jurisdictions to invest in.
If COVID has reminded us of anything, it is of the sanctity of the home and its environment as our place of refuge, learning, growing, enterprise and shelter. SLO County had great attributes before cannabis and does not need or deserve to have its amazing quality of life diminished by the reprehensible indulgences given this industry by our Planning Department, Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. Trashing our homes, neighborhoods, schools or churches with football fields of ‘safe’, ‘legal’, ‘organic’ cannabis while at the same time expounding its so-called ‘community benefits’ is completely nonsensical. Only a cockeyed government or elected official would ever promote cannabis industrialization right where we live, raise children, retire, play with grandchildren, or run businesses. We must protect our rare and beautiful central coast way of life.
Drew Van Duren
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