The County Board of Supervisors inched a bit closer to regulating the cannabis industry Tuesday by giving conceptual approval to how it will respond to the state when local medical marijuana cultivators apply for either of two state licenses.
Supervisors were split 3-2 on the option for providing information to the state when growers apply for a temporary license the state plans to issue, starting Jan. 2, until a full suite of regulations is developed.
But they were unanimous about the option for providing information for growers in the Coastal Zone who may have to wait up to 18 months for the Coastal Commission to approve the county’s cannabis regulation ordinances, which also have yet to be developed.
The Coastal Zone is the land from the mean high-tide line extending just over half a mile inland.
“This is the only way for us to get odor control before the Coastal Commission considers our ordinance,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said.
The board was also unanimous on an amortization amendment to Article X, the medical marijuana regulations, that would provide time for a cultivator to recoup some of his investment should he be unable or unwilling to meet state and local regulations and be forced to shutter his operation.
“Amortization is necessary to require nonlegal cultivators to terminate their operations,” Williams explained. “Otherwise, they could continue to operate without following any of our laws.”
All three votes represent directions to staff, who will return with more specifics on how the county will respond to the state’s request for information on the status of growers who apply for licenses and with an amendment to Article X.
Those are expected to return at a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 14, in Santa Barbara devoted entirely to cannabis issues, including a process for determining what is a legal nonconforming use, licensing and permitting options, a fee structure for permits and licenses, an economic analysis, tax rate estimates and staffing for compliance checks and enforcement involving unregistered operations.
Prior to voting, supervisors heard from 28 members of the public — growers who want the county to move forward quickly to adopt reasonable regulations and neighbors of growing operations seeking relief, primarily from odor problems but also pollution and safety issues.
Supervisors clearly were not happy with having to come up with ways of providing the state with the information it needs for issuing licenses when even the state hasn’t developed a firm set of regulations and guidelines for the county to follow.
“You can thank the state for designing something that’s unintelligible,” 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam said. “They’re not even done writing the rules yet. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m getting railroaded.
“This has been the biggest botched process I’ve ever seen,” Adam said, initially saying he couldn’t support the options offered by staff for either the temporary or annual state licenses, although he later agreed to the option for the annual license.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he could support the option ultimately chosen for the temporary licenses, which both Adam and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf voted against.
Under that option, medical marijuana growers would submit a request to the County Executive Office by Dec. 15 requesting a letter of authorization to apply for a temporary state license.
The request would have to include all the authorization criteria specified in the state’s emergency cannabis regulations — the name of the applicant, specific cannabis activity being licensed, the specific location and possibly other state requirements.
They would also have to submit a sworn affidavit containing the person engaged in the cultivation, the location, the date cultivation began there and the organizational descriptions that qualify them for medical marijuana cultivation.
Williams asked to have additional information requested for a “voluntary” response, including the consent of the property owner to cannabis cultivation, whether the operation has an odor control system and what kind of security it has.
Wolf said she didn’t believe the county could issue such a certification or its own permits because, currently, only a few medical marijuana operations are permitted as legal nonconforming uses.
All other cannabis cultivation is banned throughout the unincorporated areas of the county.
“It is folly for this board to move forward with that option,” she said.
Wolf recommended the county instead focus on developing a comprehensive ordinance regulating both medical and recreational marijuana.
“We’ve got two choices today,” Lavagnino said. “Business as usual … or start down that road to normalization. Our goal is to remove the bad actors and support those who want to do it right.”
He said he’d heard rumors that the Coastal Commission might act faster than usual on whatever ordinances the county develops, so cultivators in the Coastal Zone might only have to wait a few months for the countywide ordinance to apply to their area.
The option supervisors chose to provide information about Coastal Zone growers seeking a state license would be to inform the licensing authority about the operation’s compliance with the ordinance.
Compliance would be by the cultivator completing a local application and having staff pay a visit to the operation to confirm it meets local license and permit requirements, or completing a local application and participating in a consultation with planning or business licensing staff to assess compliance with the effective, but not operative, ordinances.
The difference between effective and operative is that an ordinance could become effective on a certain date, like Jan. 1, but its provisions might not apply until a later date chosen by supervisors, according to county staff.
Other options rejected by supervisors would have had the county not respond to the state’s request for documentation. Then, after 60 days, the state would automatically issue the license.
“I don’t want to stay silent when silence is implied consent, even for those not in compliance,” Williams said.