Regulating marijuana is a difficult public policy issue that has evaded an adequate solution for decades. The passage of Prop 64, only 53 days before I became First District Supervisor, and the decline of the domestic flower industry forced me into the fray. It is a particularly divisive issue in our community, adding to a long history of grievances between Carpinteria’s flower growers and residents.
I socialize with people on both sides of this debate—you do too if you go to any nonprofit event in our town. The closeness of my friendships on either side is easy to paint as sordid. I have met with people on both sides over coffee, beer or pizza. Sometimes a marijuana grower comes up with an idea I like, sometimes I support the opponents. Call them back room dealings, but I’ve had more with marijuana critics than I have had with anyone else.
One of the meetings that has been twisted was an informal gathering at my house with members of the Carpinteria Valley Association and associates of a local family of growers, the Van Wingerdens, to meet with odor control experts so residents could have a say in how odor control developed on the grow sites. More recently, I’ve convened a group of four growers and four opponents to discuss current community concerns related to cannabis. Additionally, the Board of Supervisors and County as a whole held over 50 public meetings, including meetings around a countywide Environmental Impact Report.
The result is an ordinance that I believe will address the concerns of Carpinteria residents once permits are issued to those that meet our standards. The ordinance gives Carpinteria additional safeguards the rest of the County doesn’t have—including odor control, a cap on acreage and a ban on outdoor grows. The ordinance allowed us to shut down 34 cannabis operations countywide since August, a number that will continue to grow as operators complete the permitting process. Due to the stringent permit requirements regarding odor control, water usage, energy usage and security, only 12 permits have been issued countywide, and only one in the Carpinteria Valley. Note that odor control is not required statewide—it is a product of our own local permitting process. Which leads me to ask: is the situation better than it was before November 2018, when our ordinance went into effect? The answer I’ve heard from most residents is “yes.”
I understand people are scared by the number of applications in our small town. But the ordinance standards and the cap I added will ensure that only a fraction will receive permits. I also understand that it is not yet good enough—especially for those who have been living in the Wild West for the last five years. I planned for us to be further in the process of cleaning things up by now, and for that added frustration I apologize. I work on this issue constantly, and I will keep working to make it better.