Budding medical marijuana

Marijuana flowers cluster tightly on a stalk of cannabis in a medical marijuana patch tucked into a coastal canyon. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and staff are currently wrestling with how to regulate the relatively new industry amid ever-changing state laws.

Odor, setbacks and a recently released environmental impact report led the cannabis conversation Wednesday during Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s meeting about land use and regulations.

The issue of how Santa Barbara County will respond to the cannabis industry in the unincorporated portions of its boundaries is being talked about on multiple levels of county government.

On Wednesday morning in Santa Barbara, the Planning Commission discussed a possible land use ordinance and licensing program. The conversation was continued from a meeting held in September and will continue at more meetings in the coming weeks and months.

The potential smell of farming, storage and manufacturing marijuana were key discussion points during Wednesday's meeting. 

Carpinteria Unified School District Superintendent Diana Rigby wrote a letter to the commission alerting them to “strong objectionable cannabis odors originating from agricultural operations” near Carpinteria High School.

According to Rigby, the high school, located in the 4800 block of Foothill Road, is currently surrounded by cannabis growers and greenhouses.

Dan Klemann, deputy director of the county’s Long Range Planning Division, said though there is technology available to detect the smell of cannabis, enforcing odor-based rules can be problematic.

“The challenge is getting access to all of the possible properties that could be producing odor," Klemann said. "The problem is concluding that the odor you are experiencing is coming from a specific location when you have so many other possible sources."

Fourth District Planning Commissioner Larry Ferini also raised concerns about odor.

“The problem with that is no matter what regulations we put in, we won’t be able to enforce the smell factor,” Ferini said. “I think that we are going to have to be careful and sensitive on this issue.”

One solution the county could employ is to dictate how cannabis is cultivated and stored.

“It seems to me that if we were to only allow cannabis to be grown in greenhouses, we’d solve lots and lots of problems," Planning Commission Vice Chairman and 5th District representative Dan Blough said. "It would be interesting to know more about the odor sequestration technology.” 

Another solution may be increasing the distance cannabis operations could be situated from places like schools, parks and residential neighborhoods.

Carpinteria Unified School District’s superintendent suggested the distance be 1,000 feet.

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In current state law, cannabis operations have to be set back 600 feet from schools.

Ferini, who also works in the conventional agriculture field, suggested the setbacks be larger.

“In our type of agriculture, we have limitations about what we can do in a quarter mile (1,320 feet) of a school,” he said.

During the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also heard many remarks about the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Cannabis Land Use Ordinance and Licensing Program.

The report, released Oct. 2, will help county leaders make decisions about the future of the cannabis industry when it is complete. The county is accepting public comments about the plan until 5 p.m. Nov. 16.

Dave Clary, a resident of Tepusquet Canyon and member of the Tepusquet Canyon Crisis Committee, offered his input on the plan, criticizing the amount of time the county has allotted for public comment. 

“It has 50,000 words more than ‘Moby-Dick,’” Clary said.

The conversation about cannabis will continue with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors' meeting Nov. 14, and at a Planning Commission meeting to be set in December or January.  

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.