Growers want to grow, and residents want to open their windows. In its ongoing discussions about how to regulate the cannabis industry, Santa Barbara County Supervisors and staff convened on July 11 to receive public input and set priorities. Starting July 12, the county opened the 30-day scoping period for its Environmental Impact Report on proposed new cannabis regulations. The month-long window is the public’s opportunity to provide input on what’s important in regulating the cannabis industry—in Carpinteria it has been all about the crippling odor—so the EIR can analyze how proposed regulations will impact the environment in areas from irrigation to noise and traffic.

First District Supervisor Das Williams, a Carpinteria resident, has straddled the divide most sharply illustrated along the Carpinteria city/county border at Foothill Road, where a quarter of the county’s current cannabis cultivation occurs. Williams said the conundrum here is untangling what’s already a regulatory knot and fixing the system to alleviate the public nuisance created by unrelenting skunky odors while providing a set of rules that will allow growers to stay in business.

“If you want more enforcement on marijuana, we have to permit marijuana, which is a weird, counterintuitive fact,” Williams said.

Not to be understated is the county’s interest in generating tax revenue from a new industry to help close a $30 million budget shortfall. Any tax on the industry would require a voter-approved ballot measure.

The county never had a way of recording and tracking who was growing medical marijuana, and created an ordinance last year putting a moratorium on new growers and granting existing growers as of Jan. 19, 2016 legal non-conforming status. Still, there was no real accounting of who was legal non-conforming, nor a registry of who was growing.

By crafting laws that will bring medical and recreational cannabis growers and retailers under one set of rules before 2018, growers will only be legitimized if they are in strict compliance. Without the rules, Williams said, growers have no incentive to take measures like installing expensive odor mitigating scrubbers.

“(The current system) is not working for growers either, because they don’t feel secure that they’ll be able to stay in business, which makes it hard to invest capital,” Williams said.

The county has great latitude in how it can design its legal framework for cannabis, but also faces a time crunch before the state begins its licensing system in 2018. State licenses will only be issued to cannabis cultivators, retailers or manufacturers who prove they’re in compliance with local law. If local laws do not exist, only state laws will apply.

“The reality is we have a system that’s not working very well. We want to fix the system. Come next year, we’re going to have the state issuing licenses, and we need (the county) process to move forward so we have an opportunity to tell the state, ‘Hey, they’re in compliance,’” Williams said.

To get a feel for residents’ appetite for cannabis entrepreneurship, county staff solicited voluntary registration of current growers and medical marijuana operators, as well as those who will apply for licensing once the recreational industry gets off the ground in 2018. Currently, the county has registered 216 current operators, and 506 total parties expressed interest in being licensed in the future. Of the current operators, 52 registrants are in Carpinteria Valley—the densest region in the county for cannabis cultivators.  

The county will use both business licensing ordinances and land use ordinances to keep the cannabis business in check. Business licenses can be capped and certain aspects of the cannabis business, like extracting oils to make edibles, can be barred completely. Land use rules can be applied to set up buffers between schools and growing operations to limit the amount of space that can be dedicated to cannabis and condition permitting to require mitigation standards like scrubbers to prevent the dissemination of odors.

At the meeting, Carpinteria resident and retired local law enforcement officer Zave Saragosa said, “Even with this heat, I still can’t open my windows. It smells like a dead skunk in my backyard, and that’s not right.”

For their part, industry representatives said they welcome rules. They want to be legitimate business people and good neighbors. Also, those in the cannabis industry are quick to dangle the carrot of the new tax revenue stream in front of representatives who are embroiled in budget struggles. One industry representative said, “(Legal cannabis) has come into California. The only question is, will the county reap the benefits?”

Residents in the City of Carpinteria hope that the county empathizes with their complaints when deciding the fate of the cannabis cultivation industry that has sprung up in their jurisdiction.

“Imagine if you wake up one night and your whole backyard is lit up by greenhouse lights when there was never a planning process or notification. This is what my family is experiencing,” Carpinterian John Culbertson said. “I ask us not to look at the past. The past has not been too good here. Let’s look at the future. That’s what we should do as people.” 

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