SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz County released a highly anticipated proposal to regulate the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of recreational pot — a massive industry centered on the Santa Cruz Mountains that has only recently begun to emerge from the shadows.
Among the most notable aspects of the proposed rules: Manufacturing and distribution would be regulated under the same ordinance as cultivation, and multiple licensed businesses could operate on the same properties, with some restrictions.
In another notable shift, staff are recommending a draft Environmental Impact Report be put to the side, saying it would speed up licensing to review each site’s potential impacts individually.
The proposal also contains a number of provisions aimed at alleviating concerns that the pot businesses could attract crime, become a nuisance to neighbors and increase the risk of fires. Generators would be banned, except for emergency use, and business owners would have to keep all plants and grow lights out of sight and under tight security.
Violators would face fines starting at $2,500, and enforcement is expected to increase, paid for by some of the new tax revenue brought in by legal weed.
The ordinance is scheduled to be reviewed by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors following a public hearing Monday morning, after which it would head to a Feb. 28 Planning Commission meeting before returning to the board for a final vote in March.
The first licenses could be issued soon after.
While Santa Cruz County was among the first in the state to license its 12 retail pot shops, it has been criticized by some cannabis growers for being slow to move to regulate and license the business from seed to shelf after hundreds of illicit growers registered with the county in 2016.
Environmentalists and cannabis industry leaders reached by the Sentinel were hesitant to weigh in on the specifics of regulations through which they were still sifting, but responses have already poured in to the county’s Cannabis License Office, according to Licensing Manager Robin Bolster-Grant.
“The overwhelming response has been relief,” Bolster-Grant told the Sentinel on Monday.
Not all who reviewed the rules were relieved, however. Jim Coffis, deputy director of cannabis trade association GreenTrade, said his first reaction to reading the proposed ordinance was disappointment.
Rather than smoothing the path to licensing, Coffis said the recommendation to discontinue the EIR could make licensing more complicated.
“Now the process has become much more cumbersome,” Coffis said, adding that he was generally disappointed by the draft ordinance but was curious to hear more about the rationale from county staff at upcoming public meetings.
The hundreds of public comments submitted on the draft EIR were key in informing specific provisions of the proposed rules that would prevent growers from using generators or having plants or grow lights visible from off of the sites, according to Bolster-Grant.
“All the various requirements are kind of beside the point,” Coffis said. “It’s really an issue of whether or not the county wants to have commercial cannabis activity that contributes to the economic well being and tax revenue or they don’t. What they seem to be saying is the existing industry that has been around for years is not acceptable.”
The full text of the proposed county ordinance, which would replace Chapter 7.128 of the Santa Cruz County Code, is available at the county website. Changes to amend zoning code to make allowance for cannabis business uses were also released Friday as part of the proposed regulations.
IF YOU GO
Public Meetings: Santa Cruz County is holding two public meetings to present the proposed cannabis regulations and answer questions. The first meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Board Chambers at the Government Building, 701 Ocean St, Santa Cruz. A second meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Felton Community Hall, 6191 Highway 9, Felton.
Public Hearing: The Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal during a special meeting 9 a.m. Monday at the Board Chambers at the Government Building, 701 Ocean St, Santa Cruz.
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