By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo County supervisors continued sparing over marijuana regulations on Friday. After a full day of contentious debate and allegations of conflicts of interest, the supervisors voted to limit the number of pot grows and reaffirmed plans to ban storefront distribution of cannabis.
On Oct. 17, the first day of the cannabis regulation hearing, many of the speakers voiced concerns over water usage, smell and safety concerns surrounding marijuana grows. Friday’s speakers were primarily cannabis industry insiders who asked the supervisors to allow the marijuana industry to self regulate.
Supporting self-regulation, Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson said that wide-scale marijuana production would bring financial benefits to the county. Hill said that the vast majority of local residents had voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana as a reason for few regulations.
Opponents of a largely unregulated marijuana industry argued that the public voted to legalize recreational marijuana use and not an unregulated industry. Neighbors of some grows voiced concerns with water usage, chemicals, trash and people with guns guarding their cannabis.
“This board seems to be focusing only on businesses” Patrick McGibney said. “What about the people who live here? This is our county also. This ordinance does not affect the legalization of cannabis nor the ability of individuals to grow their six plants. That’s what the people voted for, not large scale commercial grows that end up on the black market.”
Last year, state pot growers produced 13.5 million pounds of marijuana, five times the amount Californians consumed, according to the LA Times. It is suspected the bulk of last years cannabis crop was transported to states where it remains illegal.
Gibson rebuffed residents who spoke about their wells going dry or smells related to marijuana grows, saying anecdotal stories of problems should not be considered.
“We have no documentation of problems,” Gibson said.
In response to Gibson, Supervisor Lynn Compton said that she received more than 100 complaints about just one grow and that more than 90 percent of her time is spent dealing with cannabis cultivation complaints.
“My goal is to put it in places where you are not going to have the interface with the people and the complaints, and do some rational basis of land use so the conflicts are minimized in the future,” Compton said. “If it is successful, I am not opposed to opening it up in the future.”
In an attempt to support growers who registered under the urgency ordinance and who have operated legally, Supervisor Debbie Arnold proposed limiting permits to the 101 outdoor and 40 indoor grows already registered. Arnold also voiced plans to have the issue revisited in a year.
Arnold’s motion passed 3-2 with supervisors Hill and Gibson dissenting.
The county planning department’s draft ordinance, which was rebuked for failing to follow board direction, caught many small growers by surprise.
Christopher Mathews said staff’s draft disadvantaged the smaller growers. He questioned whether staff was non-biased because a political consultant who works for Hill, Gibson, Sheriff Ian Parkinson and the planning department is also paid by several of the large marijuana businesses.
“The number one reason is the involvement of Cory Black and Public Policy Solutions in nearly every single aspect of the draft ordinance,” Mathews said. “How is someone who claims on their own website the county planning department as a client, allowed to represent clients applying for licenses under your own urgency ordinance? Why did the staff never raise the question that this is more than a conflict of interest, but rather an incubator for collusion and corruption?
“Can the county planning department be trusted to write a fair and impartial ordinance when they are clearly still working with Cory Black and Public Policy Solutions? Clearly, the answer is no.”
With the final vote on the ordinance slated for Nov. 7, it is likely the three conservative supervisors will prevail in plans to ban storefront dispensaries, support small local cultivators and to temporarily limit the number of marijuana grows.