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County begins hearings to shut down Cal Valley cannabis grows



The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors chambers split into halves on May 25, much like a courtroom.

On the left side, county code enforcement and legal staff huddled together, exchanging words and paperwork. On the right side, five cannabis farmers from the California Valley sat quietly side by side.

Their lawyer spoke for them.

CANNABIS CRACKDOWN Five Cal Valley cannabis growers face abatement and fines after a May 25 county hearing. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • Image Courtesy Of Slo County
  • CANNABIS CRACKDOWN Five Cal Valley cannabis growers face abatement and fines after a May 25 county hearing.

"Most the people don't speak English well enough to testify," Alan Karow, a Santa Barbara-based attorney, told Gregory Gillett, the appointed hearing officer—one of six SLO County retained to oversee ongoing cannabis enforcement cases.

The hearing is the second of many scheduled to address cannabis cultivation in Cal Valley (near the Carrizo Plain), where grows had proliferated in prior years without any rules or regulations, but where all commercial cannabis cultivation is now banned by county ordinance.

The county's goal is to enforce the ordinance allowing 141 cultivators to continue growing on specifically zoned land. The Board of Supervisors established a separate hearing process to handle cannabis cases more expeditiously than a bona fide court.

"We're trying to create a level playing field for people who are properly [growing]," Tim McNulty, of the SLO County Counsel's Office, told New Times.

While Gillett reviewed only five cannabis grow sites on May 25, Karow said he represents a group of 50 to 60 growers, who had moved their families to Cal Valley "with a dream." He believes many are of Hmong descent.

"It's a community that saw a vision out there," Karow told New Times. "These weren't hippies sneaking out into the woods. These are people who bought property."

During the hearing, county attorney Brian Stack showed Gillett several photos of the subject cannabis grows taken during prior code enforcement inspections—inside greenhouses or hoop houses, surrounded by black mesh fencing, and backdropped by the remote landscape of the Cal Valley.

"Cannabis is being grown in violation of county code," he said. "It's a prohibited use and deemed a public nuisance and subject to abatement and imposition of administrative fines."

The county asked Gillett to issue an order giving the growers two days to clean up the site, and approve a $100 per plant per day fine and other administrative fees.

Karow argued for an extended time frame to allow the growers more time to chart their future. He said the county didn't send a clear signal that cultivation wouldn't be permitted in Cal Valley, citing emergency regulations county supervisors passed in 2016 that allowed Cal Valley growers to continue cultivating temporarily.

"It's been the Wild West in California for the last five years," Karow said. "All these people are really asking for is a reasonable time to get out of there. ... They just want an opportunity to leave without their family losing everything."

As of press time, Gillett had not issued a ruling on the cases. Δ

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