Who’s guiding SLO County’s marijuana laws?


Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about how high-end investors, small marijuana growers and fortune hunters are battling for a place in California’s new gold/green rush. First published on CalCoastNews on May 19.

Three San Luis Obispo County supervisors were stunned last week to read a new draft ordinance on marijuana. The draft bore almost no resemblance to the ordinance the board had directed staff to modify.

While the supervisors had assigned Assistant County Administrator Guy Savage to make a few changes to a previous draft ordinance, two  county planners, James Caruso and Brandi Cummings, took it upon themselves to produce their own version of a marijuana ordinance.

Caruso and Cummings’s draft of the marijuana ordinance appears to favor some growers while putting other marijuana enterprises out of business. Caruso and Cummings did not return several requests for comment.

Supervisor John Peschong noted the different treatment of some growers.

“Our government needs to draft ordinances that treat everyone fairly,” Peschong said. “I am against any ordinance that picks winners and losers.”

Persons looking for a windfall from California’s legal marijuana industry have come to the state from throughout the nation. Multi-million-dollar crops have led to threats, back room deals, cheating and corruption, growers complain.

In September 2016, the SLO County Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance that banned new marijuana grows, but allowed growers that could prove they were cultivating as of Aug. 23, 2016 to remain. However, the grows cannot expand in size.

At that time, the board directed staff to begin working on a permanent ordinance.

On February 28, the SLO County Board of Supervisors reviewed a draft ordinance and gave direction for Savage to make changes and then to put it out for public review.

However, on May 1, Caruso and Cummings posted a revised draft ordinance which bore almost no resemblance to the earlier ordinance. The planners gave the public until May 12 to comment.

Caruso and Cummings’s draft prohibits mobile delivery services which do not have a dispensary from making deliveries. If enacted, more than 90 percent of all delivery services would be put out of business and those who win the battle to open brick and mortar stores would pick up the extra business.

Caruso and Cummings’s draft restricts cultivation on properties under 5 acres in Nipomo. That would favor several large property owners and put many of the small growers out of business.

Even though the supervisors had directed staff to write an ordinance that permits non-volatile cannabis manufacturing facilities while forbidding volatile manufacturing, Caruso and Cummings’s draft allows volatile manufacturing facilities.

On May 12, growers voiced their concerns to supervisors who were previously unaware that their directions for an ordinance had not been followed. After several supervisors brought their concerns to county administration Dan Buckshi, Buckshi said the draft ordinance would be fixed, officials said.

“This is not the direction we gave staff in a board meeting,” Compton said. “In fact, there is nothing in this draft ordinance that resembles the original draft ordinance.”

At a SLO Normal meeting Thursday evening, when asked by concerned marijuana growers about the dramatic changes from the draft directed by the SLO County Board of Supervisors and what planners created, building division supervisor Art Trinidade said several county supervisors were upset about the direction staff took in creating the latest draft.

“At least one of the legislators threw a shoe at us,” Trinidade said.

Nevertheless, Trinidade said that county staffers would not be making changes to the draft.

“It will be at the planning commission before you see any changes,” Trinidade said.