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Highlights of Proposals for New Santa Cruz County Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance

At the May 10, 2016 Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors meeting, County staff presented their recommendations for a new commercial cannabis cultivation ordinance.  Those recommendations were informed by a report of the Board-appointed Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (“C4”), with follow up input by some of the Supervisors. The staff report can be found at: http://santacruzcountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1189&Inline=True

(See page 459 to the end, which is agenda item 53.)

The staff report is fairly complicated.  (For example, it states that the C4 group voted on 84 different issues.)  The main subjects of the proposed ordinance will include: minimum parcel sizes, maximum permitted canopy sizes, and zoning; setbacks; exceptions; taxes and fees; and license and registration requirements.

The staff report stated that the overall goals of its recommendations are “to maintain the highest degree of protection for the environment, our neighborhoods and our citizens,” to implement the goals set by the Board, which are “neighborhood preservation, environmental protection and an adequate supply of medicine,” and staff “strongly recommended that parcels that are zoned solely for residential be excluded from all commercial cannabis cultivation.” (Emphasis added.)  Also, the new Santa Cruz County ordinance will be designed to dovetail with new state licensing requirements and regulations under the Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act (“MMRSA”).  Staff believes that maximum canopy sizes permitted under the MMRSA are not appropriate for Santa Cruz County because our county is much smaller than other nearby counties and much smaller than other high cannabis growing counties like Humboldt and Mendocino.

Here are some highlights of the staff recommendations for a proposed ordinance:

  • Cultivators in existence as of January 1, 2016 get some preferences, including smaller minimum parcel sizes, and “provisional licenses” that would give existing cultivators up two years to conform their operations to new requirements or move to a new location;
  • In SU and TP zones, minimum parcel sizes of 1 acre (per C4 recommendation) or 5 acres (per Supervisors), with maximum canopy sizes of 1.25% of total acreage. (This translates to maximum canopy of 2,722 SF on 5 acres.); Maximum canopies of 5,100 SF on 5-10 acres and 10,000 SF on 10+ acres;
  • In SU zones, maximum outdoor canopy sizes as follows:
    • Existing cultivators: 1-5 acres: 1,000 SF or plant count TBD; 5-10 acres: 2,000 SF or plant count TBD; over 10 acres: up to 5,100 SF
    • New cultivators: must be over 10 acres: 1% of parcel size, or maximum 5,100 SF;
  • Cultivation in timber production (TP) zones should be reviewed with more discretion in order to preserve timber production value and consider special environmental conditions, such as geography, accessibility, water, and fire risk;
  • Because existing space is limited in commercial and industrial zones (C4, M1, M2, and M3), indoor cultivation in those zones should be rationed with an eye towards the long-term economic impacts of losing commercial space that could displace other types of businesses that may bring more economic development and higher wage jobs. Staff is recommending capping total, combined square footage at 100,000 SF and total, combined canopy size at 22,000 SF in for these zones in unincorporated parts of the county;
  • No commercial cultivation within the Urban and Rural Services boundaries;
  • No commercial cultivation in the Coastal Zone plus one mile, with exceptions CA and A zones
  • Written consent from property to cultivate;
  • Written consent from all users of a shared well;
  • Cultivator or manager must live in a permitted dwelling unit on site;
  • Water must be provided from an approved on-site source;
  • Generator may not be used as main power source;
  • Registration requirement during process of environmental review, adoption of ordinance, and transition to fully-regulated marketplace (maybe as an alternative to the provisional license concept).

What do I think?  I have several clients with responsible, environmentally sensitive cannabis cultivation operations in the mountains (in SU and TP zones) who will be negatively impacted by the restriction on outdoor growing area and canopy size, and who may need to move their farms if they do not satisfy the minimum lot size that is ultimately adopted.  (1 acre, 5 acre, or something in between.)

On the other hand, I have other non-grower clients who own residential property and/or live in these rural areas and suffer some of the negative consequences of cannabis farms.  These issues include: unknowing landlords who must deal with the consequences of illegal grows by tenants; excessive use of a shared domestic well; road overuse and damage caused by large trucks; excessive traffic by workers and couriers; anxiety about the risk of robbery, violent crime and the presence of additional “security” personnel.

I am a land use attorney, and I generally support reasonable land use regulations for the common good.  So I tend to agree that the County should try and protect non-grower residents from the negative impacts of this new industry, that the County should try to minimize negative impacts on the natural and human environments, and that a reasonable, balanced approach is to shift some of this activity out of rural residential areas and into ag, commercial ag, and industrial areas.  Regulation of a new industry necessarily involves some trial and error, so I will keep an open mind.  The County appears to be making a thoughtful, well-intentioned effort to address the numerous issues involved.

The next step is for County staff to actually draft a proposed ordinance, which will then need to undergo environmental review under CEQA.  So realistically, we are probably 9-12 months away from the Board of Supervisors adopting a new ordinance.  There will be several more opportunities for members of the public to give input on these issues, so keep yourself informed, go to public meetings and submit comments.

But enough about what I think.  What do you think?

©2016 Miles J. Dolinger.  This article is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation for the formation of an attorney-client relationship.

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    Thank you for making this data more accessible (understandable) for me.


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