I am on the front lines of the cannabis revolution in California and appear to be on the losing side.
I support decriminalization of cannabis and voted for Proposition 64, which made commercial marijuana legal. But the law of unintended consequences has struck again. Locally, operators have established cultivation sites and in some cases have already harvested multiple crops without filing for local permits.
My husband and I and our neighbors, and others from Carpinteria to Santa Maria have spent since early 2017 attending meetings of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, sometimes twice a week.
We have tracked the county’s deliberations and have provided emphatic input into the development of the final cannabis land use and business ordinances. Our work, however, is being undermined at the state level where the cannabis lobby is influencing legislators.
We look to Gov. Jerry Brown for help. I urge him to veto two Senate bills backed by cannabis industry interests.
Senate Bill 1459 by Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Republican from Ceres, would give cannabis business operators a one-year long extension of time to file for local permits. The rationale is that there are backlogs in local jurisdictions preventing timely completion and granting of permits. This may sound logical but the existing law already allows for extensions.
In Santa Barbara County, only 9 individuals of the 1,058 applications to the state—the highest in California–have begun the process of meeting local requirements. Extending their deadlines will only exacerbate a bad situation.
Senate Bill 1294 by Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena, would grant public funds to cannabis businesses under the guise of providing equity for individuals or businesses impacted by criminalization prior to Proposition 64.
In plain speak, this means that if you had a marijuana conviction you may now be eligible for loans or grants from the state of California to start up your own cannabis business. This includes but is not limited to finding a site, hiring employees, and raising capital plus receiving assistance via reduced fees.
I cannot think of another industry where entrepreneurs get this kind of support.
Here’s where this becomes personal. Over the past 3 years, our rural neighborhood has been overrun by marijuana growers, few of whom appear to be operating legally. Authorities recently raided and shut down two cultivation sites.
What attracts growers to our canyon is the terrain. Its steep slopes hide grow sites from public view. And land prices are relatively cheap. One grower was quoted in the local newspaper as calling our area “junk land.”
To those of us who live here, it’s anything but junk land. We value our environment.
Too many growers seem to have little regard for its beauty. They run heavy equipment at all hours, do unpermitted grading on steep slopes, light up the night sky with lighting in hoop structures, and race heavy water tanker trucks along our narrow road. All this occurs in a canyon that is a high fire zone.
As the industry shakes out, I fear that marginal operators will plant, pollute and harvest, and leave the bill to taxpayers to remediate damage at the grow sites.
Gov. Brown has embraced the need to keep decision-making at the local level whenever possible. That’s one reason why he should veto Senate Bills 1294 and 1459. Extending deadlines to obtain licenses and giving growers subsidies will simply empower growers at the expense of the rest of us.
Lil Clary, a retired community college administrator, lives in Tepusquet Canyon outside Santa Maria. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.