OPINION: Will San Benito County Lose Out in California’s Cannabis Market?

SBC Sheriff's department issued cultivation abatement notices to all 27 commercial cannabis amortization applicants to terminate grow operations in two weeks time. The Board of Supervisors will vote on banning commercial cannabis at its next meeting.

There's an old saying that goes: "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail." But here in San Benito County we simply plan to fail, especially when county staff is resistant to the will of the majority of voters who supported Prop. 215 and Prop. 64; medical and recreational cannabis laws that will tax and regulate the adult use cannabis market in California. As a result, San Benito County appears to be turning down the opportunity to participate in the multi-billion dollar cannabis market by curtailing commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing operations, having already banned the prospects of retail dispensaries in its jurisdiction. 

When recreational cannabis becomes legal in California on January 2, San Benito County may be left out of a state-wide licensing agenda. Although County residents approved the Prop 64 authorization – aka: the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 – by a respectable 56 percent and the County has dedicated resources to put a structure in place, the Board of Supervisors has mysteriously failed to pass an ordinance that would clear a path toward compliance for the considerable number of registered cultivators who are patiently waiting in the wings.

What’s at stake for San Benito County, which is already being enjoyed by other California jurisdictions, is substantially increased tax revenue, funding for roads, parks, important community services and a solid deterrent to black market trafficking.

In 2016, residents were provided the opportunity to apply for registration of cannabis cultivation. In most other municipalities, this path ended with an ordinance granting authority to provide conditional use regulatory permits and the ability to collect taxes. In Monterey County, for example, voluntary tax payments on approximately 10,000,000 square feet of canopy have already resulted in $5,000,000 that can now be funneled into needed local programs, all the while maintaining the quality of life associated with Monterey County living. Similarly, other smaller cities such as Hollister, Greenfield, Gonzales and many more, have structured permitting that not only financially supports management of the endeavor, but also requires permitees to directly contribute funds to the betterment of their communities.

But in San Benito County's jurisdiction, the story is different. Consultants have been hired, hearing officers assigned, and dedicated resources invested, yet month after month after month no ordinance is passed, not a dollar in revenue is collected, and the black market continues to thrive.

The ultimate question is: Why?

San Benito County is treasured for its deep agricultural history, strong family values, unique charm, and balanced way of life. None of these qualities are in opposition to a regulated cannabis structure. If anything, such a structure will greatly benefit San Benito while at the same time shut down illegal cultivators who evade enforcement and strip San Benito residents of lucrative tax collections from a legal and expanding market. San Benito County services, enforcement efforts and residents are the losers.

San Benito and our citizens deserve better than this. A structured cannabis cultivation permitting structure must be passed now.

Michael Smith

Pro-economic growth, pro-music, pro-science, pro-retirement.