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SLO County supervisors shelve cannabis ordinance changes

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During the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors' contentious four-hour hearing on Aug. 18 to consider a package of new rules for the local cannabis industry, cultivation applicant Tim Reed called in to the meeting to speak about what the stakes were for him.

STATUS QUO A split SLO County Board of Supervisors did not move forward a series of changes to its cannabis ordinance on Aug. 18. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • STATUS QUO A split SLO County Board of Supervisors did not move forward a series of changes to its cannabis ordinance on Aug. 18.

"We've spent well over $80,000 in the effort," Reed said. "[We're] 30 months into the process. Our hearing is at the end of this month, but based on your actions today, we may be eliminated before our project's even considered. If you change the ordinance now, it's entirely unfair to applicants who have done everything asked of them."

Reed joined a coalition of SLO County cannabis growers that pleaded with supervisors to reject the ordinance amendments, which would've significantly changed the regulatory parameters for nearly 90 cannabis applicants. Among the tweaks was to increase the required setback distance by 50 percent.

"What is happening here is like moving the football goal posts after the game has started," said Gretchen Lieff, of Alamo Creek Ranch. "It's wrong."

A few of the amendments—like pursuing an outdoor cultivation ban and gradually reducing the total number of available cannabis permits—would've threatened the long-term survival of the local industry, growers and county officials added.

While growers pushed back, residents of Creston and other rural communities called on supervisors to approve the changes and also seek additional, stronger ones. A unified group of Creston community members demanded that the board make Creston a "cannabis free zone." Residents expressed concerns about odors, pesticide drift, and other community compatibility issues.

Ultimately, the board did not muster a majority vote to move forward on any of the amendments. First District Supervisor John Peschong broke from 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton—who were supportive of most of the changes—arguing that the county's current ordinance appeared to be working and needs more time to either succeed or fail.

Peschong noted that out of the 133 cannabis applications submitted over three years (a total of 141 are allowed to apply), only six growers have received their permits, cleared appeals, met all their necessary conditions, and obtained state and business licenses.

"There are six," Peschong said. "Those six have followed the rules, have adapted to what the Planning Department and this board have made decisions on. Because they have not had one complaint or violation, I see something's going right. I see they're actually working their way through the system, and the system is taking care of the bad actors ... . Let's move this [forward] in the name of fairness. We set these rules up, let's see how it shakes out."

Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson agreed with Peschong, saying that the proposed changes would push the county's cannabis program "further into a dysfunctional state by heaping on more restrictions that are arbitrary and not fully reasoned."

Arnold, who represents the Creston community, echoed most of her constituents' concerns and requests—including adopting a position that cannabis cultivation should be moved into a consolidated, industrial area.

"I think that in hindsight, we should consider really trying to move our cannabis industry into industrial zoning, where there is no minimum in our ordinance," Arnold said. "Now that we see the industry, the beginnings of it, in my mind that might be a more appropriate place. ... The conflict that I see churning throughout the district—there many, many more people who have just not been happy with the way we allowed the cannabis industry to move out in and near residential areas."

With the 3rd District supervisor seat vacant due to the death of Adam Hill, the board's 2-2 vote meant the amendments did not pass. County staff said they'll return to the board at a future meeting with more minor "clean up" changes to the cannabis ordinance. Δ

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