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County, Atascadero to craft medical marijuana cultivation ordinances

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On Feb. 9, the San Luis Obispo County supervisors gave county staff the unanimous go-ahead to begin working on a comprehensive ordinance to regulate medical marijuana.

In response to a mistaken regulatory deadline set by new state laws, every city in SLO County passed bans or strict regulations on cultivation within their jurisdictions. The deadline—which required that local governments pass cultivation regulations by March 1 in order to maintain local control in licensing the medical marijuana industry—was recently removed, giving the county a little breathing room.

All five supervisors support taking a regulatory approach over a probationary one.

“I’ve met with a lot of folks on this issue,” 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “Unanimously, they say, ‘We want to be regulated.’”

Supervisors discussed the importance of drafting regulations consistent with neighboring counties and said this process would be an important step in preparing for the possibility that marijuana could become legalized due to a November 2016 ballot initiative.

“This is an opportunity to govern where it doesn’t matter what people’s opinion about cannabis is. It’s legal medicinally,” 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill said.

An ordinance will seek to assess the appropriate size of both personal and commercial cultivation. Initially, SLO County began looking at setting limits based on the number of plants a grower has, often referred to as a plant count. That approach concerns growers, who say that plant counts favor outdoor cultivation and can lead to resource-intensive methods that encourage quantity over quality.

Many growers advocate instead that size and production limits be based on the square-footage measurements of a grow’s canopy size.

“I’m still a little bit perplexed why we’re still talking about plant count,” said Sean Donahoe, representing the California Growers Association.

Meanwhile, in Atascadero, plant count is the name of the ordinance. The City Council voted unanimously Feb. 9 to begin drafting a city ordinance that would permit medical marijuana cultivation for personal use, allowing patients to grow up to six mature marijuana plants and 12 immature plants on their properties. 

Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish told New Times that the ordinance is for individual use only and includes a cap per dwelling unit of nine mature and 15 immature marijuana plants. The council voted to prohibit growing in front yards and on vacant land and to disallow plants from hanging over onto neighboring properties. Banish said that the numbers used as growing limits were plucked from existing state laws.

“Council did an excellent job of working through what [an ordinance] would look like and giving it reality,” Banish said. “Drilling down into what would work the best and then taking it to the next step, the dwelling unit itself, and not just the patient.”

The ordinance will go before the Atascadero Planning Commission on March 1 and is scheduled to return to the City Council on March 22.

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