Our View: First rule, don't hurt ag economy
Our View

Our View: First rule, don't hurt ag economy

Let’s face it, even in a hot-button presidential election year, the big gorilla in the room as far as Santa Barbara County is concerned are cannabis regulations.

It’s been more than three years since the personal use of cannabis products was approved by voters, but the policy umbrella regulating the new industry remains a work in progress.

We wrote earlier this month that what may seem to some as bureaucratic foot-dragging is actually a good thing. Too much public policy is created on the fly, politicians knee-jerking their way to re-election.

This county’s elected and appointed officials seem to be closing in on some decisions, including a cannabis zoning overlay that makes sense, producing some hard-and-fast rules about what can be grown where.

One of the major issues yet to be resolved concerns odors emitted from cannabis growing operations. What people are smelling are terpenes, pungent cannabis compounds that are sweet aromas to some, but just plain stinky to others.

Admittedly, terpene smells are strong. But on the other hand, strong agriculture aromas are fairly common in and around North County communities. Santa Maria residents and anyone with decent sensory equipment passing through on Highway 101 are familiar with the pungency of broccoli and other vegetables in our fields. Similar smells waft through the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys — a point made quite clear in a recent letter to the editor from Lompoc Valley winemaker Stephen Pepe.

The mid-county winemaking community is acutely aware of drifting cannabis smells, and is worried what impacts such smells may have on wine grape crops, and on customers who flock to mid-county to taste and buy local wines.

The concern expressed in Pepe’s letter is that the county Planning Commission is nearing a final recommendation on a cannabis ordinance, and vintners are worried that one of the requirements may be that cannabis grow odors be stopped at the grow’s property line.

Just as laws don’t stop people from speeding on the freeway, laws won’t have much effect on where the wind blows the smell from crops. To illustrate, Pepe wrote about broccoli and brussel sprouts smells pushed by the wind, often far beyond a grower’s property line.

He wrote: “It is not a very big step from requiring cannabis odors to stop at the property line to requiring all farm odors to stop at the property line. I suggest farmers would be better served if we treated farm odors like we treat farm noise. … The (Planning Commission) should establish a maximum measurable odor threshold which is realistic for responsible growers.”

This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. One person’s sweet could easily be another person’s sour.

County officials are wrestling with the notion of ag buffer zones, the size of which could determine how much of a problem odor and noise are to each individual operation. Some jurisdictions have recommended a half-mile buffer, while others say that’s not even close, and that a mile buffer would be better.

Making those kinds of difficult determinations is why policy makers earn the big bucks. Well, elected and appointed officials generally don’t make gobs of money, but they still have to make the tough calls anyway.

One thing is certain. Whatever rules are finally approved need to protect Santa Barbara County’s agricultural industries, because growing and ranching are the big power behind the local economy. And no one industry should have rules that the other’s don’t have.

And now, the cannabis industry is a major part of the conversation.

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