County delays cannabis ordinance

Cannabis plants

After receiving comments from residents during a public hearing, San Benito County supervisors on Tuesday delayed the approval of a cannabis business ordinance.

The item, which deals with cannabis cultivation for medical use only, will be continued to the board’s August 22 meeting.

On Tuesday, speakers voiced concern over water issues and a proposed boundary line for cultivation in the southern area of the county, which local law enforcement and code enforcement officers felt was necessary to ensure access to any future growing sites.

Susan Shackleton, owner of a medical cannabis cultivation operation in the county, spoke out against the proposed boundary line at the southern boundary of Paicines near the intersection of Highway 25 and Cienega Road.

“When you enter into an industry where the laws aren’t all set and you have to anticipate where you think this industry is going to be and what the state and local governments are going to want from you, it’s difficult,” said Shackleton, who later added that her company had met with the Sheriff’s office and county code enforcement when her company first came to the county. “In 2015 we purchased property in the southern part of this county and now I’m hearing about an indiscriminate line possibly going through the county.”

Resident Steve Becerra spoke on water use and shared wells.

“I don’t see any language about shared wells in the ordinance,” Becerra said. “People are going to be using domestic, shared wells for their commercial cannabis operation.”

The prospect of illegal cannabis growing operations in a county that is still trying to grapple with the new post-prohibition landscape was the elephant in the room.

“The purpose as we all have discussed is really to address the issues of illegal cultivation that are currently going on countywide,” said Pinnacle Strategy President and former Hollister Councilman Victor Gomez, who helped draft the ordinance alongside an ad hoc committee comprised of Supervisors Robert Rivas and Mark Medina, as well as stakeholders that include the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, the County Administrative Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Resource Management Agency.

“The nuisance is to the neighboring parcels, environmental impacts and so on,” said Gomez.

California voters passed Proposition 64 last November, which legalized recreational cannabis throughout the state. The law makes it legal for adults 21 and over to buy, possess, use, share and transport up to one ounce of cannabis. The state is expected to have framework in place and start issuing permits by January 2018.

In June, Governor Jerry Brown approved Senate Bill 94, which repealed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. The Bill consolidated medical and recreational cannabis use under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation Safety Act.

“There will be two separate license types, medical and adult use, but it will all be administered under the same program,” Gomez said. “You’ll likely see this ordinance a few times as the state starts adopting their rules and regulations and operating procedures. We will have to come back before you with some changes to this ordinance. Likely I’m thinking September, maybe October, with some additional changes.”

The county is expected to start reviewing the rules and regulations of the cannabis ordinance in August so that they can start receiving applications by a target date of October 1. Details like odor mitigation, times of operation and lighting are expected to be addressed as the rules and regulations are created, Gomez said.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho asked about permit limits.

“In the ordinance it mentions possibly placing some caps on permits being issued. Is that something we need to talk about today?” Botelho asked.

“No, we’ve suggested you wrap that into your rules and regulations,” Gomez said. “It makes it easier for you to make any changes in the future.”

“I think that’s something we have to take into account,” Botelho said. “I know Humboldt County has 2,500 applications. I don’t see how in the world we could ever process anything like that. It’s not fair to anyone. Maybe that’s a step we should be considering.”

Supervisor Mark Medina said the ad hoc committee settled on having less than 100 permits.

Gomez said the discussion around the taxing structure for cultivation would continue.

“You’ll want to likely take that into consideration early next year,” he said. “You’re going to want to put something on the ballot in 2018 to consider some type of cultivation tax.”

Supervisors Rivas and Muenzer stated they wouldn’t vote for the ordinance without examining issues brought up during the meeting. The board decided to push approval of the ordinance to next month to allow the ad hoc committee time to address the issues.

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