County executive Dennis Bozanich addresses a room of cannabis growers.
Paul Wellman

It wasn’t exactly a come-to-Jesus moment, but for former altar boy Dennis Bozanich, it would have to do. Bozanich works for county CEO Mona Miyasato as Santa Barbara’s de facto cannabis czar, meaning it’s his job to get the new industry up and legally operating within the narrow time constraints the state has allowed. Likewise, it’s his responsibility to ensure that black marketeers and noncompliant industry stragglers are enforced out of existence.

This Monday, Bozanich had invited all 96 cannabis operations to the county supervisors’ chambers for some blunt talk. Accompanying them was a flotilla of land-use agents, attorneys, political consultants, and professional planner types. Bozanich played good cop and bad cop simultaneously, holding hands and kicking ass at the same time. It was quite a performance.

“When people ask me what my vision is for the cannabis industry in Santa Barbara County,” Bozanich told the crowd, “I tell them, ‘World domination.’” Bozanich was joking. But only sort of. In the moment, he was exhorting the industry masses to get their act together and create a countywide appellation to better brand their product, as the wine industry has done. The county government, he told them, should not have to be involved. It went without saying ​— ​so Bozanich did not say it ​— ​that county government is banking on the new industry to contribute mightily to its coffers.

Bozanich convened the meeting because the clock is ticking for the county’s cannabis operators. Their temporary permits expire December 31; they’re allowed only one 90-day extension after that. In this context, he pointedly wondered why only 48 applied for the county land-use permits they’ll need to become permanently legal. To date, only one county land-use permit has been issued.

Bozanich was ticked. The industry, he complained, had put considerable pressure on the county’s entire regulatory and political apparatus to get a cannabis ordinance passed and on the ballot. The county had delivered; now Bozanich wanted to know why the industry was taking its sweet time. “My goal is to keep people in compliance so we don’t have to do enforcement,” he explained. “My anxiety is that we’re going to run out of time.”

Bozanich made it clear that county enforcement efforts would be picking up. Two weeks ago, two illegal grows in Tepusquet Canyon were shut down; nearly 2,000 plants bit the dust. Last Friday, another 8,000 plants were eradicated after an illegal grow on four acres in Los Alamos was discovered.

Bozanich also reminded those in attendance their first tax payments are due no later than October 31. The county, he said, accepted cash, credit, or cash. Many, he knew, would be paying in cash. The county’s money-counting machines are not fast, he warned them. To avoid long lines, he strongly suggested people should not wait until the last minute. “If everyone waits until October 31, I’ll strangle … ” he said, and let the thought go uncompleted. “It will be bad.”

For all his bluster, Bozanich was there to answer questions and offer help. Santa Barbara County had successfully lobbied the State Legislature to extend environmental reporting deadlines that cannabis operators within the Coastal Zone will need to meet. Those operators have special jurisdictional challenges. They need Coastal Commission approval; so too does the county’s new cannabis ordinance. The soonest the Coastal Commission will act on the ordinance is December.

It’s not just a jurisdictional issue. Carpinteria, for example, has 34 greenhouse operations located in the Coastal Zone. The county ordinance requires that all grows in Carpinteria have odor abatement technology. But that portion of the county’s ordinance has no teeth until the Coastal Commission certifies it. Even without the force of law, Bozanich urged operators to comply anyway. “What we’re trying to do,” he said, “is create a pathway to compliance.”


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