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Cannabis Update for Santa Barbara County

Regulation Growing in Fits and Starts from Goleta to Lompoc

Greenhouse Grow
Paul Wellman

In the still very theoretical world of legalized recreational cannabis, the City of Goleta could theoretically become the epicenter of the most intensely licensed cannabis county in the entire state of California. Last week, Goleta’s City Council voted to allow as many as 15 dispensaries. What this means in reality, however, remains far from clear. Goleta officials are not certain that 15 permit-friendly locations actually exist within city limits, nor is it clear exactly where the number 15 came from. “The Planning Commission pulled that number out of its pocket,” explained city spokesperson Valerie Kushnerov.

Many in the cannabis trade question whether Goleta has the population necessary to sustain more than two storefront operations, assuming that voters approve the city’s proposed cannabis tax this November. By contrast, the City of Santa Barbara is poised to allow three storefront adult recreational dispensaries, and the County of Santa Barbara is allowing eight throughout its unincorporated territory. Before any applications for county permits can be submitted, however, the California Coastal Commission has to sign off on the county’s pot ordinance, and that’s not expected to take place until sometime between next January and June.

The City of Lompoc appears to be the most accommodating to the new industry, at least on paper, and is not proposing to impose any numerical cap on retail storefronts at all. Lompoc officials expect that space and distance requirements ​— ​from schools, parks, and other dispensaries ​— ​will limit the number, as will market constraints. Even so, Lompoc is also the only municipality to propose allowing cannabis clubs ​— ​the pot equivalent of wine-tasting rooms ​— ​where on-site consumption is permitted. Initially, the Lompoc City Council had voted not to impose any tax on the new industry, but last week, the council changed its mind and is expected to place a schedule of various cannabis taxes to the voters for approval this coming November.

To date, the legalization of recreational cannabis has managed to generate a flurry of new rules, regulations, fees, and taxes, but so far no actual storefronts where actual legal pot can be purchased have materialized. Currently, there are only two legal dispensaries countywide, both operating in Goleta and both operating as medicinal dispensaries rather than recreational. Those two operations will undergo a major regulatory sea change, effective July 1, when new state rules and regulations take effect governing how cannabis ​— ​whether recreational or medicinal ​— ​is tested, packaged, and labeled, indicating potency and the presence of pesticides or other adulterants. Edibles must be labeled to indicate how much can be eaten safely within certain time parameters. Any pot not tested, according to the new rules, must be destroyed. Currently, there are 18 licensed testing facilities in California, none in Santa Barbara County.

Meanwhile, the City of Santa Barbara is winding up its retail dispensary application process. Unlike any other jurisdiction in the cannabis game, Santa Barbara has created an elaborate application gauntlet in which applicants are rated. Six applicants managed to make the first cut, three on downtown State Street. Of all six, no more than three can be chosen. The winners are slated to be announced July 9. In addition, City Hall is reviewing the application of two manufacturing operations, one on Reddick Avenue and one on Gutierrez Street. According to Santa Barbara Police spokesperson Anthony Wagner, no date has been scheduled for announcing which of the manufacturing-distribution-and-delivery proposals will be approved.

In Santa Barbara, weed has traveled from growers to consumers via a vast fleet of home-delivery drivers, none of which are specifically licensed, according to state records. Wagner described the home-delivery industry as “porous,” adding, “What draws the ire more than anything else is that they’re tax cheats.” Wagner intimated enforcement actions could soon take place. One operator, he said, has already received a cease-and-desist letter from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Dennis Bozanich, the County of Santa Barbara’s de facto cannabis czar, said he’s currently coordinating enforcement actions against unlicensed growers with the county Sheriff’s Office. “At this point, you’re either licensed or you’re not,” Bozanich said. He advised unlicensed operators growing more than the six plants allowed by law for personal cultivation “to find a new place to live.” Those who don’t, he said, “are about to meet some of our friends.”

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