–It is time to accept and embrace the advancement of the commercial cannabis industry in San Luis Obispo County.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Luis Obispo County has suffered an increasing loss in revenue seen from tourism and the wine industry, two things our county relies on heavily. County leaders should now step up and embrace the potential economic boost the cannabis industry can create with investment in cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail storefronts.
Many comparisons can be made between cannabis and wine, beginning with the opposition. Long-time residents of SLO County often recall the hesitation that arose when the horse pastures in rural areas began to transform to vineyards. There was much resistance to change, which is why the resistance to cannabis comes as no surprise. The expected water use is a concern for cannabis as is was for vineyards, And the potential effects on residents of the community were greatly disputed for both.
Those who opposed the wine industry expected the worst, and the same can be said to cannabis naysayers. The primary differences, however, are that the cannabis industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the nation and that cannabis carries an obvious stigma. Cannabis has changed significantly since the days of Woodstock or Cheech & Chong. It is not only “stoners” shopping at retail storefronts, it’s soccer moms looking for better sleep or grandfathers looking for help with arthritis.
A letter to the editor discussed why SLO County needs to oppose the advancement of commercial cannabis. There were many assumptions and false statements in the letter. This is my rebuttal.
It is assumed that commercial cannabis can be grown anywhere, in any neighborhood, building the idea that, as the previous letter states, “The existence of industrialized cannabis in and amongst our communities is an affliction and burden to residents”. In fact, outdoor cannabis cultivation is only allowed on land zoned as Agriculture (AG) or Rural Lands (RL). Also, the area of land that can actually be cultivated on a lot is small.
On an AG property of 10–25 acres, only two acres can actually have cannabis growing on it. And on an ag property greater than 25 acres, only three acres can be cultivated. RL properties can only grow up to a single acre. This leaves quite a large portion of land without cannabis, presumably creating a buffer zone between the cannabis cultivation and surrounding properties. Furthermore, a cannabis cultivator must obtain a state license and a county permit, and only 141 permits may be issued for cannabis cultivation in SLO County, and those permits come with long list of limitations.
There are too many to mention here, but a full list can be found at http://cannabusinesslaw.com/california-cannabis-laws-by-county/san-luis-obispo-county/. A brief summary of these limitations includes odor and waste management plans, neighborhood compatibility statements, vicinity maps proving the site is at least 100ft away from various neighborhood structures, security, site postings, the list goes on. So the idea that cannabis farms will be invading our communities is a fallacy.
Commercial cannabis poses no more excessive water use than any other commercial crop. And prior to gaining a commercial cultivation permit, must supply a detailed water management plan including the proposed water supply, proposed conservation measures, and any water offset requirements.
Commercial cannabis does not introduce fire hazards during extraction and manufacturing on agricultural land. Unlike vines, which are harvested, then left to go dormant and dry out while remaining in the vineyards, cannabis is harvested at the base while still living, removing the entire plant from the field while there is still enough moisture to offset a fire hazard.
Commercial cannabi is no more of a negative impact to the environment than any other commercial crop. The soil needed to grow cannabis is ordinarily nutrient-rich and compost-friendly soil, which when left behind can actually increase soil quality for future crops. As much as cannabis has been studied, which admittedly is in its infancy because of previous regulations, has shown very few negative health effects, and has in fact shown far more benefits in preliminary studies. As for the effect on surrounding businesses, there is no reason to believe businesses would be adversely affected by a nearby cannabis farm. Trespassing or theft at cannabis cultivation sites may be a possibility, but the security measures put forth by SLO County regulations are put in place to deter most criminals from entering the site.
To assume that cannabis “is not wanted by local communities and neighborhoods” is an overgeneralized statement. As with any change coming to a community, there are proponents and opponents. Of course there are those against the cultivation in their community, but there are many community members who would welcome the change. And to say cannabis would cause SLO County residents to “face intolerable degradation in their quality of life,” needs further clarification. The definition of “intolerable degradation” will vary with each individual, and there is no reason or proof provided to enforce the degradation of a community. There are currently multiple communities throughout the county with cannabis farm locations, and there have been no reports of community degradation.
By March of 2018, 31 of the 58 counties in California had cultivation licenses, so a statement such as “While most counties in California rejected commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, our county officials didn’t,” is false.
The COVID Impact
Paso Robles alone usually hosts approximately 2 million tourists each year, generating more than $15 million in direct tax revenue for the community. As of May 2020, the City of Paso Robles was projecting an estimated $4 million to $6 million shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year, as well as a $4 to $6 million decline in 2020–2021. And the County of San Luis Obispo is projected losses in the tens of millions in 2020 alone. The county is taking a huge loss in revenue.
The economy needs a boost. In May of 2020, during the shelter-at-home order, Santa Barbara County “has received $6.7 million in cannabis tax revenue so far this fiscal year”. Imagine if that were translated to SLO county. In 2018 in Grover Beach, where there are three cannabis dispensaries in operation, $120,000 in tax revenue was produced for the city in the first quarter. And that does not account for the jobs that could be provided to the county for the cultivation, manufacturing, and sales of cannabis.
Since cannabis was deemed an essential business, it provides opportunities to maintain a more stable economy in times of pandemic uncertainty. The opposition can be sympathized with, given the historical trend of resistance to change, however, the image of a declining community where commercial cannabis is “trashing our homes, neighborhoods, schools or churches” is one of fiction and created from misinformation.
To “protect our rare and beautiful central coast way of life,” we need to embrace change and accept that commercial cannabis is not the enemy, but a thoughtful addition to a community that should welcome new small businesses and growth in agriculture.
Author’s note: Sources used for the article include KSBY News, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Forbes, City of San Luis Obispo, and CannaBusiness Law.