Reefer Madness is a well-known, over-the-top, and long-ago-discredited 1936 propaganda film filled with fantastical images intended to scare teens about marijuana, which is why it’s an interesting choice for the title of Ann Louise Bardach’s op-ed published on April 17. Like the film, Bardach’s piece is filled with exaggerations, misinformation, and fearmongering that requires correction.
Bardach would have you believe that the Santa Barbara County Supervisors have turned into Scarface but with cannabis replacing cocaine. In actuality, it’s more like a surprise season eight of Parks and Recreation. Maybe it’s not that humorous. Yet my name has been dragged through the mud and my character questioned, so it’s important to share my side of the story.
I was sworn in as 1st District Supervisor on January 2, 2017 — 53 days after voters approved Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana in California. I began receiving complaints about cannabis odor in Carpinteria (and experienced it myself as a resident) long before I took office or before voters approved Prop. 64. Working with staff, I discovered there wasn’t any action to take against the odor or bad actor operations because they claimed to be “legal, non-conforming.”
“Legal, non-conforming” is a classification created by the previous Board of Supervisors in response to a state deadline requiring local jurisdictions to create rules for long-legal medical cannabis. The board decided to ban all new operations and “grandfather” in existing operations (as of January 2016). This means that operations claiming to have existed prior to January 2016 were considered legal by the county prior to creating rules for how they could operate.
The process has been painstakingly slow. We held 20 public meetings and did an Environmental Impact Report, and I personally met with constituents, including Bardach, dozens of times over a year and a half before the ordinance was adopted. That’s why it’s maddening to see such misinformation and old data being printed in our most-trusted local news source when I know the person who wrote it has been given the correct information. She refuses to accept it because it’s not as sensational — although it is interesting that the print version of Bardach’s piece seems to have most of the misinformation omitted while the full version remains online.
This problem only intensified with the passage of Prop. 64, when my colleagues and I were tasked with determining rules for recreational cannabis. A ban has already proven ineffective in our county, which was the case prior to the new rules taking effect. A ban requires maximum levels of enforcement with minimum levels of resources. The math doesn’t work out. So, our cannabis ad hoc committee — consisting of myself, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, and staff from Planning and Development, Public Health, and law enforcement — worked for months to determine rules that create the potential for maximum enforcement capability.
I believe we have accomplished just that. Our Cannabis Enforcement Team, consisting of 21 staff members funded by the cannabis tax revenue approved by voters, have made 30 busts since August — a heck of a lot more than what occurred prior to our new rules and revenue. It’s actually that “legal, non-conforming” classification that’s providing us with our most stringent enforcement ability. It has given our District Attorney the ability to charge perjury against those who have lied on their application that they were in existence prior to January 2016, a much heftier charge than a zoning violation.
Here are the facts: Santa Barbara County has 410 State Provisional Licenses out of about 825 — so roughly half, not two thirds. Mind you, those numbers represent operators wanting to be permitted and follow the rules, not operators that have existed outside of the law and are hoping to continue. The numbers were higher in the beginning only because Santa Barbara County was ahead of other counties in putting a process in place. Other counties are now trying to get their operators to follow the rules and get a permit. Humboldt’s Planning Director just made a presentation at a conference in San Francisco I attended, saying his county has an estimated 15,000 marijuana operations with most not seeking permits. Also, we don’t have “triple” the cannabis licenses of Humboldt — we have 12 more.
Regarding our permitting process, we have 139 permit applications for 112 parcels in the county (39 in Carpinteria) and, thus far, due to the stringent permit requirements regarding odor control, water usage, energy usage, and security, only nine have been issued countywide. Hardly handing out permits like they’re candy.
I voted against Prop. 64 because I believed we weren’t ready to handle what was to come. I wanted enforcement on bad actors before I even took office. And it is finally happening. We are making unprecedented progress. To make any substantive changes to the Land Use Ordinance now would only delay enforcement while we try to figure out what the new rules are. We have rules. They are working. There are still problems, and they will be worked out through the process we have in place. Our staff is going above and beyond to ensure that is true.