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Santa Barbara County hits No. 1 in state cannabis licenses, fueling debate on cultivation cap

Santa Barbara County hits No. 1 in state cannabis licenses, fueling debate on cultivation cap

From the Complete Series - Green Rush in the 805?: Cannabis on the Central Coast - Looking at land use, money, science, law enforcement and education series

Santa Barbara County is now No. 1 in the number of temporary cannabis operation licenses issued by the state, pushing long-dominant pot capital Humboldt County to No. 2, and that added fuel to a debate over capping the number of cultivation operations that arose at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf dropped that statistic on fellow board members as a disagreement arose over whether the supervisors intended to cap only the number of cannabis retail outlets in the county or cap both retail and cultivation operations.

Chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said the intention always was to cap cultivation operations, but other supervisors and staff said the direction from the board was to place a cap only on retail outlets.

However, Wolf said she would support a discussion of capping cultivation.

“One of the things of concern to me is the number of state licenses being issued here,” Wolf said. “We now have the highest number of licenses in the state, more than Humboldt. We’re No. 1.

“We need to get a handle on where we are now,” she said. “I think we need to know where these places are. They’re growing exponentially.”

Wolf said 250 temporary state cannabis licenses have been issued for Santa Barbara County, while only three have been issued for San Luis Obispo County.

But, like other supervisors, she was concerned about revisiting the entire set of land use ordinances the board approved Feb. 6 and had come back Tuesday for a little cleanup to correct an unintended consequence of a last-minute change.

“I would like to make our ordinance more restrictive,” she said. “But once you open the door, you never know what you’ll get.”

The staff was asking supervisors to remove the word “outdoor” from one section regarding odor abatement systems and to add a footnote that had been left off land use charts.

As approved, the ordinances require a conditional use permit for cultivation on land zoned AG-2 and adjacent to a rural/urban boundary line or an existing developed rural neighborhood, commonly referred to as an EDRN.

Supervisors also intended to eliminate the need for an odor abatement plan for cannabis operations on AG-2 zoned land unless a conditional use permit is required.

But as approved, the ordinances said “outdoor” cannabis operations, meaning it would not apply to mixed-light and indoor operations.

Speakers during public comment used the opportunity to express objections to cannabis operations in certain areas and to criticize several aspects of the approved ordinances.

They asked the board to consider adopting separate standards in the Coastal Zone and to place caps on the number of cultivators, primarily to cut down on odor but also to address traffic and visual impacts.

That’s when Williams brought up the potential for using the Coastal Zone boundary as the line for limiting cultivation, but the staff responded the only direction the board had given was to develop limits on retail stores.

“I don’t recall (discussing) any caps on cultivation,” 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam said. “Being the libertarian that I am, I don’t believe in capping anything.’

He said the natural selection of competition would limit the number of operating retail stores. No matter how many initial opened, only the successful operations would survive.

“When does a limit on cultivation back into some other crop?” he asked. “I really worry about how all this will interplay at some point in the future for other crops.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, participating from Washington, D.C., through a video link, said she would support discussing a cap on cultivation at a future meeting.

“I think it will be coming back,” she said of the entire set of cannabis ordinances. “It’s not perfect.”

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who said cultivation caps were OK for the coastal areas but didn’t want them in the North County, pointed out that of the 250 state licenses granted for operations in the county, about 100 are owned by one person.

“One person could buy up all the licenses,” he said. “If you open it up, a lot of people are going to want to make changes. I do, and I know Adam does, too.”

In the end, supervisors unanimously approved the staff’s requested amendments to the cannabis land-use ordinance and agreed to consider capping cultivation and retail operations when they hammer out the permit system.

In a related matter, the board approved the ballot argument in favor of the cannabis tax measure that will face voters in the June primary election and authorized Lavagnino and Williams to write a rebuttal to any argument against the tax.

The vote was 4-0-1, with Adam abstaining.


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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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