Tuesday, June 2, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 13

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 4th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 14

County puts kibosh on cannabis rumors in 'open letter to residents'

By Kasey Bubnash

It’s been more than two years since Santa Barbara County formally started its debate over how to deal with the state’s legalization of recreational cannabis, a process that has included dozens of lengthy public meetings, community input, and workshops across the county. 

But county officials say rumors are starting to spread—rumors that the county’s handling of the issue has been carried out behind closed doors. 

That, according to county Deputy CEO Dennis Bozanich, is simply not true. 

“I think we live in an interesting time where people feel like they can even use media to promote inaccurate information,” Bozanich told the Sun, “and it’s a real challenge for all of us to be able to understand what’s truthful and real.” 

In an attempt to set the record straight, the county released an “open letter to residents” on May 31 regarding cannabis, which includes a synopsis of the county’s public input gathering process and a list of facts about recent illegal cannabis enforcement operations. 

Like any land-use issue, Bozanich said the dispute over recreational marijuana has stirred up tensions across the county, including in the Santa Ynez Valley, Tepusquet, and Carpinteria. Residents have been debating the benefits and costs of recreational cannabis grows and shops in the county for years now, but Bozanich said people tend to join in on discussions like these at different times for different reasons. 

That’s understandable, he said, but in this instance, it led to the spread of misinformation about how the county’s cannabis policies were made, and insinuations that county officials have certain insidious intentions. The letter, Bozanich said, is just the county’s first attempt to stop the gossip in its tracks. 

“Let’s reset the foundational facts of what’s happened here regardless of what people are saying,” he said. 

In the letter, county officials say they’ve been working since 2016 to build a local regulatory structure that would ease the negative impacts of cannabis cultivation and reduce illegal grows. That process has been conducted in a “very public manner,” the letter states, with hundreds of stakeholders and more than 30 public meetings across the county.

All permitted cannabis operators are required to meet strict development standards, and conditional use permits are now required of cannabis operators in existing rural neighborhoods. The letter also states that the county’s compliance teams have been enforcing county regulations and those required by the state. 

Since August 2018, the county says that 30 criminal enforcement actions have resulted in the removal of 832,649 live plants and the confiscation or elimination of 31,706 pounds of illegal products. In addition to criminal enforcement, the compliance team is actively pursuing civil and land-use violations to enforce health and safety concerns, which the county says will drive out bad actors and lead to higher-wage jobs with benefits for legal cannabis industry employees. 

Since the county released its letter, Deputy CEO Bozanich said some residents have already pushed back, asking for a list every of meeting the county has hosted regarding cannabis. Bozanich said he’s working to compile that and other facts, including the number of state cannabis licenses the county has approved—928 as of June 3. 

Bozanich said it’s not only important for community members to have these facts but to know the context. There may be 928 licenses, but that doesn’t mean there are 928 cannabis farms in the county—one farm typically needs multiple licenses. There are only about 100 operators on 174 acres of Santa Barbara County’s 756,000 acres of farmland, he said. 

Weekly Poll
How would you like to see transportation officials try to make highways in the Santa Ynez Valley safer?

Add biking and walking paths along the highways to keep pedestrians away from traffic.
Reduce speed limits near certain intersections.
Build more roundabouts.
It doesn't matter. Caltrans won't do anything about it.

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