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Marijuana growers reluctant to register with SLO County

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The setting was both fitting and surreal.

In the dim basement of Novo Restaurant in Downtown SLO on Oct. 20, roughly 35 cannabis growers sat facing SLO County Planning and Building officials Bill Robeson, Art Trinidade, and Brandi Cummings, who stood and fielded questions.

After years of operating in the shadows, local marijuana cultivators are being asked to register their grows with the county before a Nov. 18 deadline. Put on by SLO County NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), the gathering served as both an informational and trust-building opportunity.

“I’m pretty scared,” one grower told New Times. “I haven’t slept well in months. There’s a lot of stress and unknowns.”

Registration is the new law of the land—for now—since the SLO County Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance in September in response to a drastic influx of marijuana grows in the remote California Valley. The ordinance bans new large-scale grows, but grandfathers in grows that existed before Aug. 23.

The Board of Supervisors extended the urgency ordinance on Oct. 25 for another 10 months and 15 days. The board says that will allow county staff time to craft a permanent marijuana ordinance.

Registering a grow requires submitting an application with one’s name, address, parcel number, and size of the grow, allowing for an inspection, and then making any structural changes the county asks for. A cultivator has to pay at least $276 in fees.

Numerous concerns surfaced in the question-and-answer session at Novo, like whether the registration forms were public records and whether that presented a privacy issue with medical records.

“I think that’s a big fear and why I think you don’t have more applications,” one woman said.

Growers also asked how they could provide proof that their site existed before Aug. 23, whether they’d have to re-register with the county after a permanent ordinance passed, and whether the county would entertain exceptions to their code regulations.

One man said he had already invested $30,000 into a structure that won’t meet a 300-foot setback requirement from a neighboring property line.

The county’s efforts to build trust with the growers thus far haven’t translated into many registrations. Only a dozen cultivation sites were registered with the county as of Oct. 26. 

Growers who spoke with New Times appeared to be conflicted over what to do. One grower said there’s no way he’d register with the county, while another said he was “taking the plunge.”

“There’s a stigma attached to being a cultivator of marijuana,” Trinidade later told New Times. “People are afraid if they give us the information it will be used against them. But the purpose of this is to bring those people out of the shadow and into the light.”

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