Santa Barbara County publicly introduced its draft environmental impact report on proposed land use and licensing rules to regulate the production of cannabis in unincorporated areas during a special meeting Tuesday in Santa Maria. 

After releasing the draft environmental impact report for review Oct. 2, county officials have held meetings to solicit comments. A similar meeting was held last week in Santa Barbara, while Tuesday's meeting was hosted at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria. 

The draft report details potential impacts of a proposed program that would regulate when, where and how cannabis could be cultivated, processed, manufactured, tested, distributed and sold, as well as who could be licensed to conduct the processes at the various stages.

County decision-makers will use the final EIR to make its decision about the future of the cannabis industry in Santa Barbara County.

The report identified 12 potential impacts of cannabis operation to the county, and those impacts then were put into two classes. 

Class I impacts are significant and unavoidable effects on the environment and include impacts to agricultural resources, air quality, noise, and transportation and traffic.

“Even with mitigation, these impacts would likely remain significant,” Mindy Fogg, of the county’s Long Range Planning Division, said Tuesday about the Class I impacts.

Agricultural resources made it to the Class I list because of a concern about cannabis growers potentially impacting soil quality by choosing to construct and use large greenhouses.

“Our current clean air plan does not account for this type of industry,” Fogg said of why air quality made the most significant impact list.

Class II impacts are less significant with mitigation efforts, and include impacts to aesthetics and visual resources, along with agricultural, biological and cultural resources, hydrology and land use.

The impacts in Class II also include effects to utilities, population, employment and housing.

“We also looked at a range of different development standards to apply, such as setbacks from schools, permanent fencing and security, and ways to minimize nuisances, such as lighting order and noise,” Fogg said. 

On Tuesday, the crowd gathered in Santa Maria had the opportunity to comment on the report. 

Hunter Jameson told county planning officials they had missed some potential impacts to study.

“Two deficiencies the final EIR should take into account are the effects on law enforcement and medical care,” Jameson said.

According to Jameson, marijuana-related traffic deaths have significantly increased in the state of Colorado since it legalized cannabis cultivation and its use in 2013.

Robert Fedor, board member of the Cannabis Business Council of Santa Barbara County, disagreed with some of the draft's findings.

“Odor does not impact air quality. Traffic impacts have been overestimated,” Fedor said. “The industry has a significant positive impact on jobs. Not everybody is in the black market.”

A common sight at meetings about the impact of cannabis to the unincorporated portions of the county is members of the Tepusquet Canyon Crisis Committee, with their purple visors.

Tepusquet Canyon residents regularly plead with county leaders to restrict cannabis cultivation in their region due to potential fire, road, water and safety impacts.

Dave Clary, Tepusquet resident and committee member, complete with copies of some of the maps included in the plan took issue on Tuesday evening with how Tepusquet is represented. Clary said the plan does not accurately show Tepusquet Canyon’s water and other resources.

He repeatedly told county officials and Tuesday’s meeting attendees, “we aren’t going anywhere.”

Anyone wishing to comment on the draft environmental impact report has until 5 p.m. Nov. 16. 

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