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New fees loom for SLO County cannabis growers 

With the COVID-19 crisis taking center stage, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors delayed a scheduled discussion on March 24 about the state of local cannabis oversight and permitting.

As of March 9, SLO County had issued 31 total cannabis permits, while more than 130 applications remain in process.

click to enlarge STATE OF CANNABIS A March 24 San Luis Obispo County staff report detailed the local cannabis industry's significant pull on county resources, and outlined new fees to cover the costs. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • STATE OF CANNABIS A March 24 San Luis Obispo County staff report detailed the local cannabis industry's significant pull on county resources, and outlined new fees to cover the costs.

Though the discussion was put off, its accompanying staff report detailed the demands placed on the 11 county departments involved in the cannabis review process, which has resulted in higher than expected general fund spending. County staff are recommending the board enact higher cannabis industry fees to help offset the cost of seven new proposed staff members, whose salaries and benefits would exceed $1 million.

The report did not specify how much above its forecasts the county is currently spending on cannabis activities, but it indicated that at least five additional full-time equivalent employees are involved than were budgeted during this fiscal year.

"Since the early stages of the county's cannabis program, the Board of Supervisors has stated that the cannabis industry should be self-supporting, and not rely on county general fund for permitted activities," the staff report read. "At this time only a portion of all costs are recovered through fees, and the county cannabis program continues to rely heavily on the county general fund."

A new business license fee, a "post-project" fee, a background check fee, and higher monitoring fees are proposed to cover staffing costs at several departments, including the Sheriff's Office, the Planning and Building Department, and Cal Fire.

Since the legalization of cannabis in 2017, the industry in SLO County has been highly critical of the local rollout, calling the county's regulations and permitting requirements unfairly onerous, slow, and an always-moving target.

Megan Souza, co-owner of Megan's Organic Market, which has applied for two cultivation permits with the county, said that while the new proposed fees would be "burdensome," she doesn't oppose them if it improves the application process.

"If they lead to more efficient permit processing, then it will all even out," Souza told New Times via email. "The fee increases will likely be less burdensome than the opportunity cost of missing a planting season because of slow permit processing."

In addition to the new fees, the Board of Supervisors is also poised to revise its cannabis ordinance to further restrict the type of commercial growing allowed in the county.

Called the "phase 3" amendments, the revisions include banning all outdoor cultivation, establishing residences as "sensitive receptors"—which would require a 1,000-foot setback from any grow to any residence—require closed systems for indoor cultivation, and establish a permit violations policy, among other tweaks.

The amendments, which are expected to come before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors over the summer, would apply to any new cannabis applicant as well as any applicants still in the permitting process when the ordinance gets revised, according to county officials. Δ

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