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Atascadero Planning Commission talks medical marijuana cultivation 

Atascadero is going back to the drawing board to reconsider a recent ban on all medical marijuana cultivation. That drawing board, however, is a bit small.

On March 1, the city Planning Commission considered a draft ordinance that would permit limited personal cultivation within the city. The commission approved the ordinance as is, and it will go before the City Council on March 22.

The ordinance would allow qualified medical cannabis patients to grow up to six mature or 12 immature plants for personal consumption. If more than one person is cultivating on the property, no more than nine mature or 15 immature plants will be allowed. 

That cultivation must occur on the property at which the patient or patients live, and cannot be grown in the front yard. The patient is not allowed to “sell, distribute, donate, or provide the marijuana that he or she cultivates to any person.”

Cultivation must be indoors or out of view from neighboring properties and public rights of way, a requirement Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish said is designed to abate potential nuisances or dangers to neighbors.

“When you think of folks when they live in a single dwelling or multifamily unit area, it’s just so important that this is to everybody’s satisfaction,” Banish said. “That’s key to all of this.”

Atascadero and every other city in the county hopped on the ban train in the last few months to comply with a March 1 deadline set by new California laws that create a sweeping regulatory framework for the medical cannabis industry. 

A key provision in those laws gives local governments the authority to decide what they will and won’t permit. In order to get a state license, which will be required for all aspects of the industry come 2018, an operator must first have some form of local authorization, including a use permit or a business license.

The March 1 deadline stipulated that in order to maintain local control over cultivation, cities needed a policy in place by that date. The deadline was a mistake made during last-minute amendments before the laws were passed and has since been removed. Nevertheless, out of caution, cities acted accordingly and passed restrictive bans, saying that there was not enough time to draft the necessary regulations.

Atascadero first banned all cultivation in the city on Jan. 19, with the intent of revisiting the issue to start hashing out details. In February, the City Council gave the go-ahead for staff to develop a new ordinance to allow for personal cultivation.

Every city in the county has banned commercial cultivation, and some have allowed limited personal cultivation. A handful of those cities have also committed to revising or indicated that they’d like to revisit possible regulatory avenues. Atascadero is the first city to do so, though the ordinance currently under review only allows personal cultivation.

San Luis Obispo County is in the process of drafting an ordinance as well. 

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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