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Medical marijuana industry concerned over possible new planting ban in SLO County 

Advocates, patients, and members of the local medical cannabis industry were on high alert leading up to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 23 meeting, where the board was scheduled to consider a draft urgency ordinance that could mean a ban on new cultivation come Christmastime.

The controversy surrounding the ordinance hinges on the final interpretation of whether a ban will include only new grow sites or all plantings, including those at existing operations.

Plans to sort that out, however, were postponed to Sept. 20 because the fire chief and other county officials were busy with ongoing efforts to fight the Chimney Fire blazing near Lake Nacimiento.

As proposed, the ordinance would ban all cultivation of marijuana in the county’s unincorporated areas as of Dec. 23 with strict exceptions for smaller personal grows. It would also immediately ban cultivation in areas zoned residential suburban, which includes the California Valley, a remote rural residential community where more than 100 grow sites have sprung up in plain sight since springtime.

That rapid influx, dubbed a cultivation “gold rush,” was a driving factor in the board’s July 26 decision to entertain the ban. That meeting was originally scheduled to check in on the permanent ordinance under works to regulate medical marijuana following sweeping new statewide regulatory laws. But the Sheriff’s Office pushed for an urgency ordinance because of concerns over what could happen as a result of those grows.

Guy Savage, assistant county administrator and the county’s point person on the urgency ordinance, said that because there was some ambiguity in the board’s direction, the ordinance is drafted to include all the options for what exactly a ban on new grow sites would entail.

Ultimately, it will be up to the board to sort through those options and decide how to proceed, and an urgency ordinance will require a four-fifths votes to pass. 

The possibility of a ban on all new plantings has current cultivators—many who have made a significant investment in their operations and depend on it for their livelihood—worried for their future and the future of the industry.

A letter to the board from the SLO County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) addressed several pieces of the ordinance, including their interpretation that the language goes above and beyond what was intended.

“As currently written, it will unduly restrict cultivators in the entire county who are not violating any of the current laws, and this, in turn, will have negative impacts on safe access to medical cannabis for patients living in the county,” the statement, which is currently under revision, read as of press time.

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

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