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Dealing with legalized cannabis has turned out to be more complicated than passing a ballot measure.

Folks have learned plenty about marijuana and the cannabis industry since California voters approved the growing, selling and personal use of cannabis products. For one thing, the notion that Santa Barbara County has become California’s cannabis central with regard to the state’s premier growing areas has not met with universal approval from county residents. Many people are worried about what a full-sized marijuana farm in their neighborhood will do to property values, and their health and safety.

Is the marijuana plant safe to grow, both for industry workers and local residents? The short answer is yes, it is safe, but with an asterisk. The longer answer reveals a lot of the same problems vegetable and wine grape growers are well aware of.

All of which underlines the importance of a free, three-hour cannabis workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 27, in Santa Maria. The event is from 9 a.m. to noon in the Laguna Sanitation District conference room, 620 W. Foster Road, and is being put on by the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation.

If North County residents prefer to travel down the coast instead of up, which seems unlikely, a second workshop is planned the following day in Carpinteria.

The state’s involvement in the workshops program offers a clue about the subject matter — providing health and safety training for cannabis industry workers. One might think growing plants is a relatively safe undertaking, but that is not a given. For example, marijuana plants need protection against pests — a problem for vegetable and wine grape growers — and any time pesticides are in play, there are specific health concerns.

Most of the rules for handling marijuana plants date back decades, and were important primarily to law enforcement officers involved in drug raids. But that old playbook does not address how workers in legal marijuana grows can best protect themselves from long-term exposure to, and daily handling of the plant. Various types of respirators may be needed to help protect against short and long-term exposure to marijuana plants, mold and/or pesticides.

Those are among the issues that will be addressed in the two workshops.

There is also a need for safety eyewear for protection from the ultraviolet light, and from high-intensity UV lighting in indoor grows. Gloves and other protective gear also come into play.

The workshops will outline local and state regulations with regard to marijuana grows, which because of the nature of the new law are a patchwork of jurisdictional differences. In Santa Barbara County and several local cities, creating such rules remains a work in progress.

You may have thought, hey, just stick some seeds in the ground, add a little water and a lot of UV lighting and presto, instant marijuana crop. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a complicated issue, and the workshops are designed to eliminate some of the confusion, while at the same time giving growers and their workers the knowledge needed to stay healthy.

As you can imagine, the workshops may have standing room only, so making a reservation is a good idea. Call the local ag commissioner’s office at 805-934-6200.

No one can be certain where the cannabis industry is headed, but it could turn into one of California’s major industries, and be a significant contributor to the state and local tax-revenue bases. We need to learn what we can about it.

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