Business / Economy

Supes send cannabis businesses ordinance back to committee for modifications

Ordinance is still short on details brought to supervisors by residents concerned about land use, pension funds and trespassing
Jack Kirk suggested that the county amend the ordinance to include funding entities for marijuana operations.
Susan Shackleton said she has been in marijuana business for 10 years and has tried to anticipate ordinances the county may write.
Tim McCord said he does not know where people who cross his rural property are coming from.
David Nicolaysen said it's wrong for the county to try to save pension funds with marijuana money.

After a public hearing July 18 regarding the Cannabis Businesses Ordinance and agreeing it is nearly at the point where it can be voted on, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors sent it back to its ad hoc committee to fine tune it one more time after hearing comments from the public and board members.

Background information on the agenda item covered the history of California’s cannabis law, as well as the procedural journey of the county cannabis ordinance.

On Jan. 10, the board appointed a Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee made up of Supervisors Robert Rivas and Mark Medina and directed staff to bring forward an ordinance pertaining to cannabis businesses in the county. The draft ordinance explicitly prohibits cannabis business activities (defined in state law as “commercial cannabis activities”), with the exception of cannabis businesses engaged in the cultivation or transportation of medicinal cannabis, which are not prohibited under the proposed ordinance.

In May, the staff presented the draft ordinance to the supervisors and the San Benito County Planning Commission for review and direction. The public was able to provide its input during meetings. Afterward, staff met again with the ad hoc committee and stakeholders. Medicinal cannabis nursery and transportation permits were added to the proposed ordinance, as well as regulatory provisions similar to those expected to be adopted at the state level.

On June 21, a public hearing was held regarding the draft cannabis businesses ordinance. The county Planning Commission adopted a resolution recommending that the supervisors adopt an ordinance adding Chapter 7.02 of the San Benito County Code relating to Cannabis Businesses, making the 2035 General Plan consistency findings and determinations, and making appropriate findings and determinations under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Then the ad hoc and staff request the board of supervisors consider adoption of the resolution of the Planning Commission.

During the June 18 public comments part of the discussion, Stephanie Smith claimed the Planning Commission had voted unanimously that no permits should be issued on prime farmland. She said the thinking behind the vote was that marijuana grows should not be located near residences located on five-acre parcels, which are in the prime farmland area. She also wondered why the board was ignoring the Planning Commission’s request to provide advice where in industrial areas cannabis operations made sense.

“I would ask you to just replay the tape from the meeting,” she said. “There was a lot of advice that’s not reflected in this updated ordinance. Planning is here to protect the people and telling you how land use should be defined and you guys are ignoring it. It’s a really bad example of government.”

Jack Kirk said he had been up since early that morning studying the ordinance and asked what the thinking was behind several changes that were made to it. One, in particular, that he questioned concerned funding of marijuana operations.

“One of the things that we did when we were working with the city was considering those that might be financing some of these operations and they would have to identify who these private lenders are,” he said. “The reason is sometimes there’s felons out there who want to get involved with an operation and they’ll do it by bringing money into the operation to launder money. One thing you might want to add is who the private lenders are.”

Tim McCord, who said he owns property in the northern part of San Benito County, commented that while things look great on paper, landowners have to face the reality of being located near marijuana operations.

“We have operations out in North County,” he said. “We have to look at it, we have to smell it, we have to see all the illegal things going on out there. I have to deal with people coming across my property and I have no idea where they came from or where they’re going.”

McCord said he knew from talking to a law enforcement officer in Monterey County that four people were being hired for enforcement. He also questioned what would happen to the existing operations once the new rules and regulations were in place.

“Are they going to be torn down or required to start over?” he asked. “You’ve got all these people holding multiple permits to have marijuana. It’s a hard thing to regulate and footage wise I don’t think there is any. I live over a half mile away and have to live with the smell all the time.”

McCord told the board that when a grower obtains a permit, the board has basically devalued everyone else’s property. He said if nearby residents want to sell their property, they have to disclose the marijuana operations nearby and the potential buyer will just have to live with the smell.

Susan Shackleton said she has been the owner of a marijuana grow for three years and in the business for 10 years. She said that when someone enters an industry where the laws are not already in place, they have to anticipate what the state and local governments will eventually want. To do that, she said her company purchased property two years ago in southern San Benito County. She said she was concerned that the board was considering drawing a line through the county that would indicate where marijuana operations would not be permitted south of that line.

Shackleton said from her experience that she knows government does not want growing operations to be near communities and would prefer them to be located on agricultural lands. She said the company operated in good faith when it bought land in the southern portion of the county, believing that would be where officials wanted them to be located.

“Who wants to spend $1 million on property to find out we’re not going to be in South County?” she said. “I commend you on the job you’re doing. I’m just wondering why south county doesn’t look like a good spot. When I first came to the county, I met with Officer Dave Zander of the Sheriff’s Department and Stacy Watson in code enforcement because we didn’t want to be some place where you didn’t want us to be. Of course, there were no ordinances in place then. There were no necessary permits. But we followed California law and if you came out to our ranch, you would see a patient tag on every plant. We are doing more than the state is asking us to do. I hope we can work with San Benito County because I really think that we can set this county as being a state standard.”

David Nicolaysen came at the issue from a different perspective. He said he realized the county was under pressure to devise income sources because of liabilities associated with retirement funds.

“The past mistakes of politicians who have taken money from the unions and signed contracts that they knew they could not pay are now resting here,” he said. “Probably in the next three years, some pension fund is going to go belly up and take the stock market with it. This is coming home to roost in San Benito County. To look for revenue at this time and hope you can solve all the problems from past politicians this is the wrong thing to do. What’s next, legalize prostitution? You could make a lot more money and you wouldn’t have to put in any greenhouses. This is just the wrong path to go.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]