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Board Takes Steps to Approve Cannabis Ordinances

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a set of cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution ordinances creating a regulated local cannabis industry that protects neighborhoods and the environment while enhancing public services.

Tuesday's unanimous vote is the culmination of several years of local planning and public input, a period which included the creation of the Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee, California voters' approval of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and a lengthy environmental review process.

The ordinances establish rules to cover key aspects of the cannabis supply chain involving cultivation, manufacture and distribution that protect public safety and include strict land use requirements, subjecting growers for the first time to licensing requirements and conformance with relevant state and local laws, including environmental, land use, building, and other regulations.

With restrictions and limitations, the ordinances allow for indoor cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution operations in commercial areas, as well as indoor or outdoor cultivation, manufacture and distribution on large agricultural and rural lots. Dangerous practices such as neighborhood "whole-house" grows are prohibited, while practices such as solvent-based extraction methods are strictly regulated.

To protect small growers, the Board added a "Cottage Garden" license category for operators in continuous cultivation since before January 2013. Cottage Garden licenses are available for parcels of at least 2.5 acres and allow a canopy of up to 500 square feet on A, RA, TP and SU zoned parcels.

Individual applications will receive site-specific environmental review, be required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and if not exempt from CEQA, must include any appropriate mitigation measures identified through the environmental review process.

The Board took a number of steps to protect neighborhoods and encourage responsible operations, including adoption of supplementary Best Management and Operational Practices requirements and an Enforcement Plan. It also allowed for increased review, including public hearing, prior to approval of outdoor cultivation projects if proposed cultivation would be located within the mandatory 400 foot setback from neighboring residences. Complaints may be made to the Cannabis Licensing Office, and the Board will receive quarterly reports on cannabis licensing operations. The Board also voted to protect existing timberlands from being converted to cannabis farms.

To assist with licensing and enforcement activities, the Board had previously reduced cannabis business taxes from seven percent to five percent for cultivators and manufacturers through 2019, gradually rising to seven percent by 2022. Forms related to cannabis business taxes are available online at the Santa Cruz County Treasurer-Tax Collector's website, available at www.santacruzcounty.us.

As part of the enforcement plan adopted Tuesday, the County's existing Cannabis Enforcement Team will be expanded, focusing on unlicensed activities in the unincorporated areas and existing businesses that have exceeded their licensing authority. Enforcement will include an anonymous process for complainants to report possible violations and there will be public disclosure of data regarding the type and number of complaints received, as well as the location of open cannabis code enforcement cases.

All cannabis licenses will be subject to annual renewal and site inspections. Periodic unannounced inspections may also be performed.

MAY 8, 2018 WILL BE THE SECOND READING OF THE ORDINANCE PACKAGE BY THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS. 30 DAYS AFTER THIS DATE, THE ORDINANCES WILL BE IN EFFECT.

BE ADVISED THAT UNTIL THE ORDIANCES ARE FORMALLY ADOPTED THEY ARE NOT YET IN EFFECT AND ANY INVESTMENT OR ACTION ON THE PART OF THE INDUSTRY TO ACQUIRE PROPERTY FOR POSSIBLE FUTURE CANNABIS ACTIVITIY IS A RISK.

FURTHER, NO NEW CANNABIS BUSINESS ACTIVITIES OR EXPANSION ARE ALLOWED UNTIL ANNUAL LOCAL AND STATE CANNABIS BUSINESS LICENSES AND LAND USE PERMITS HAVE BEEN OBTAINED.

ORDINANCES: