By Bruce McPherson, County Supervisor Fifth District
I’m very pleased to report that the Board of the Supervisors has approved landmark rules to regulate cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, creating a regulated local cannabis industry while protecting our wildlife, neighborhoods, and environment.
The set of ordinances is the culmination of three years of planning and compromise by public agencies and health, neighborhood and cannabis industry representatives. Our approval allows local cannabis businesses whose temporary state licenses are about to expire to move forward to continue operation. In other words, a select group of growers have won a ticket to enter the legal market, but they still need to run the regulatory marathon.
Existing Commercial Growers
For the first time, existing growers (no new commercial growers are allowed) will be subject to licensing requirements, and state and local laws, including environmental, building, pesticide and other regulations. Only growers from a list of about 750 who registered with the County in 2016 will be allowed to apply for licenses, with an exception for farmers in existing commercially-zoned agricultural land. In addition, growing in the coastal zone, plus a one-mile buffer, is limited to existing structures, and no new cultivation is allowed in timber production zones.
To protect small cannabis growers, we have added a “Cottage Garden” license category. That will allow those who have been in cultivation since before January 2013 to garden on a minimum of 2.5 acres with a canopy of up to 500 feet. The cottage industry is particularly important in the Fifth District, where there have been small growers for generations. It’s my hope our actions will preserve and promote the historic and economic contributions of these small growers.
The ordinance includes neighborhoods protections and ensures responsible operations, including adoption of a Best Management and Operational Practices guide and an Enforcement Plan.
Neighbors will be notified of applications for commercial cannabis businesses. All cannabis licenses will be subject to annual renewal and site inspections. The rules allow for increased review, including a public hearing, prior to approval of outdoor cultivation projects. Other protections include fencing requirements to reduce visual impacts and adopted increased setbacks from neighboring structures to minimize, visual, noise, odor and other impacts.
Complaints may also be made to the cannabis licensing office, and the Board will receive quarterly reports on cannabis licensing operations. Applications will receive individual site-specific environmental review and will need to comply with site-specific mitigation measures.
Solvent-based extraction methods used to extract cannabis to make concentrates and other products are banned in residential areas. Neighborhood “whole-house” grows are also prohibited.
The Cannabis Enforcement Team will be expanded and will focus on unlicensed cannabis activities and on existing businesses that have grown beyond their permitted license. Enforcement will include an anonymous code complaint system and public disclosure of the types and numbers of complaints.
I’m proud of this landmark set of cannabis ordinances and appreciative of the hard work that has culminated in adoption of these regulations. However, as the cannabis market and industry changes, and as we learn to live in this new era of regulated cultivation, I expect that we will be adjusting this ordinance many, many times.