County planners approve lifting ban on cannabis retail

Outdoor cultivation remains a possibility in unincorporated areas of the county.

The San Benito County Planning Commission unanimously approved on July 22 a plan allowing cannabis-related retail in certain commercial districts. 

Assistant director of planning and building Robin Bolster-Grant said the proposed changes are part of an effort to make the unincorporated areas of the county more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. She said the county has received two conditional use permit applications for cannabis operations. 

“The feedback we’ve received is that regulations are simply too cumbersome, too onerous and we remain out of the hunt when it comes to surrounding jurisdictions,”  Bolster-Grant said. In terms of attracting business, she said, “We’re just not competitive.”

The proposal would allow cannabis sales in areas zoned for Commercial Thoroughfare (C-1) and Neighborhood Commercial (C-2). 

Several areas qualify, according to the County’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) including spots in Aromas, Tres Pinos, along Cienega Road, near Paicines and near the Highway 156 San Felipe Road intersection. 

Commissioners propose letting retailers sell cannabis in many unincorporated county areas, eliminating background checks and employee permits as California already requires both when applying for a license. The commission would also allow distribution between permitted retailers.

The commission discussed allowing outdoor cannabis cultivation, subject to input next month from law enforcement and other stakeholders over security concerns.

Hollister Fire Department Battalion Chief Charlie Bedolla cited concerns at the commission’s July 22 meeting based on law enforcement’s experience with outdoor hemp cultivations. “The crime increased a bunch, from the constant theft in addition to a shooting with just local hemp,” Bedolla said. “So if we have an outdoor [cultivation] that’s going to open that up for that.”  

Bolster-Grant said cannabis is more extensively regulated by the state than hemp. 

Cannabis has a higher level of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than hemp. Hemp has a THC level of less than 0.3%. 

Commissioner Robert Scagliotti voiced concern over allowing large acreage cultivation and Assistant County Counsel Joel Elinwood said the state limits one acre of cultivation per license, though an individual might hold multiple licenses. 

“The productivity of cannabis at that scale is enormous and the market won’t bear thousands of acres of legal cannabis,” Ellinwood said. 

Recommended changes will go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval. 


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.