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New cannabis restrictions move to SLO County Board of Supervisors for vote

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A package of revisions to the San Luis Obispo County cannabis ordinance aimed at reining in the industry is going to the Board of Supervisors for a vote on Aug. 18.

The changes include increasing the setbacks required from cannabis grows to off-site residences; a possible ban on all outdoor grows; and a tweak that county staff said could effectively phase out all commercial cultivation over time.

TIGHTENING UP A series of proposed cannabis ordinance changes would add restrictions on the SLO County industry. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • TIGHTENING UP A series of proposed cannabis ordinance changes would add restrictions on the SLO County industry.

On June 25, a 2-2 split SLO County Planning Commission sent the ordinance changes to the board. Commissioners Mike Multari and Dawn Ortiz-Legg disagreed with most of the items, but noted the board's will was clearly to set stricter rules for the industry.

"For us to kind of wrangle about some of these philosophical issues and details isn't really going to make much difference," Multari said. "We know that's what [the board] wants."

The ordinance amendments beef up the county's enforcement against rule violators with a "three strikes and you're out" policy; increase grow setbacks from homes, schools, and other "sensitive receptors" to 1,500 feet; prohibit outdoor cultivation; and cap the number of available cultivation permits at 141 with no "revolving door" for those permits.

Under that last rule, if a cannabis cultivation application is denied or gets withdrawn, that available permit slot then goes away permanently.

"It is important to note that this would over time reduce the total number of cannabis operations in existence and potentially phase out cannabis activities all together over time," read the June 25 county staff report.

The Planning Commission agreed not to recommend this change or the ban on outdoor cultivation to the board. Commissioners unanimously felt the outdoor prohibition would be "moot" given the revised setbacks. It also recommended that the 102 applications currently under review be exempted from most of the new rules. They would, though, likely apply to all approved applicants when they seek permit renewals in five years.

"It's a little unfair after somebody's invested a lot of money and time to come in with a change to the ordinance that would effectively cause them to lose a lot of money and a lot of time," Commission Chairman Jay Brown said.

Dozens of residents and industry members called or wrote in to the commissioners to weigh in on the changes. Cannabis entrepreneurs and investors, who've long criticized SLO County for its conservative approach to cannabis, opposed many of the revisions.

"There seems to be a perception that the cannabis industry is so lucrative that it is immune to extreme taxation and onerous regulation. It is not," read a letter from local business owner Steven Herring. "What you are proposing here is not just anti-business. These are business killers."

Several rural residents from the Creston area submitted comments demanding stronger cannabis regulations.

"Please stop this ongoing conflict to residential agriculture neighborhoods and traditional agriculture in our county," wrote Jim Wortner, owner of Golden Pheasant Farm & Vineyards near Creston. "These cannabis projects negatively impact our communities, homes, and families. Please represent us—your constituents."

As of March, SLO County had issued 31 cannabis permits. Δ

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