In a change from the norm, the SLO County Board of Supervisors didn’t give Sheriff Ian Parkinson a marijuana policy he requested: a prohibition on cultivation.
Last November, when Parkinson asked the board to shoot down a proposed medical marijuana brick-and-mortar dispensary in Nipomo, they did it on a 3-2 vote. But on Sept. 20, when Parkinson was back at the podium asking the supes to adopt an urgency ordinance banning large-scale pot growing in the county, they didn’t cave.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN WILSON
- LET 'EM GROW: The SLO County Board of Supervisors decided on Sept. 20 that marijuana grows like this one in the California Valley would have to register with the county and be brought up to county building codes in order to continue operating.
He asked for the ordinance earlier this year, after nearly 200 marijuana grows were discovered operating in the California Valley, a remote region of the county in the Carrizo Plain. The ordinance could have put an end to those grows following this fall’s harvest season.
Parkinson claimed, along with some residents of Cal Valley who spoke during public comment, that the location and high cash value of marijuana presented a public safety risk. Deputies are a long drive away from the area, Parkinson said. The sheriff also pointed to a spike in calls since the grows were discovered.
Dave Hacker, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, presented photos to the board of the environmental damage done by marijuana growers, including images of a dead giant kangaroo rat killed by an illegal rodenticide.
After 90 minutes of public comment, the board quibbled for four hours, ultimately passing a revised version of the ordinance, 4-1, with 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill dissenting.
Under the ordinance, existing marijuana cultivators will be allowed to continue their operations as long as they register their sites with the county within 45 days. All grows will have to comply with county building codes. The ordinance bans any new indoor or outdoor grows that exceed six plants per patient for up to five patients.
Supervisors Debbie Arnold (who represents the Cal Valley), Lynn Compton, and Frank Mecham expressed support for the original ordinance. But Hill and Supervisor Bruce Gibson weren’t convinced there was an immediate threat to public safety and argued that it was the county’s responsibility to allocate adequate resources to protect the remote valley and its environment.
The discussion devolved into the acrimonious political theater that has become routine with this SLO County Board of Supervisors.
When Gibson shot down a motion by Arnold to pass the ordinance as presented but restrict its applicability to the California Valley—all but guaranteeing the defeat of the ordinance since it needed a four-fifths vote—she didn’t keep her anger to herself.
“It’s my district. You are really frustrating me,” Arnold told Gibson. “You’re saying [law and code enforcement] can control all this. They can’t. You’re going completely off the plan.”
Ultimately, all of the supervisors agreed that a permanent ordinance is necessary to determine where the county should allow marijuana cultivation and how it should be properly regulated. County staff said that ordinance would be ready for review in Spring 2017.
The current urgency ordinance will expire on Nov. 14 and be revisited by the board at that time.