Santa Barbara County Cannabis Tax Revenue Doubles During Pandemic

Operations Brought in $5.5 Million Last Quarter Versus $2.3 Million Same Time Last Year

“... This revenue is significant and we should be thinking about, number one, that it is saving county services as we speak. That’s really important in the age of COVID, where other entities are cutting back dramatically their public services,” said Supervisor Das Williams of the cannabis tax revenue boom last quarter. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Cannabis operations brought in more than twice as much tax revenue to Santa Barbara County last quarter as compared to the same time last fiscal year — $5.5 million versus $2.3 million — a surge that was partly attributed to the pandemic stay-at-home mandate in a report to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

In total, the county received $12.2 million in cannabis tax revenue over the entire 2019-2020 year. Though the county has 118 registered operators, only 50 of those contributed to the $5.5 million in cannabis tax revenue from April 1 to June 30, 2020, the fourth and most recent quarter that saw the major revenue spike linked to the pandemic. There were 43 other operators who reported zero gross receipts and 25 that didn’t report at all.


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“I want to praise you first of all because there’s better information so people understand there are legitimate reasons — such as being a nursery — of why you wouldn’t have gross receipts reported,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said to Barney Melekian, the assistant executive officer who gave the presentation. “But also for the work you have done to make sure that folks who have not reported anything have some level of accountability. 

“I also think it’s important for us to understand that this revenue is significant and we should be thinking about, number one, that it is saving county services as we speak. That’s really important in the age of COVID, where other entities are cutting back dramatically their public services,” Williams continued. 

But the tax revenue boom wasn’t the only change last quarter. 

Cannabis enforcement slowed down in comparison to prior quarters, largely due to “COVID-19 restrictions and national events such as protests, which temporarily redirected the enforcement team away from their primary duties,” the report said. 

For example, in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the county confiscated 984,597 illegal, live cannabis plants. But this past fiscal year, 19,884 live plants were confiscated by the county. Despite being short-staffed, though, the enforcement team was still able to conduct six operations in the unincorporated areas of New Cuyama, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria in the past year. 

Enforcement is largely based on complaints. During the most recent quarter, the Planning and Development Department opened four new cannabis enforcement cases, and no cases were closed. The Department responded to 88 complaints during this quarter, 70 of which were out of Carpinteria over disruptive cannabis odor. This was a decrease of approximately 28 percent from the prior quarter.

With 1,133 cultivation licenses and 297.2 acres of cannabis grows, Santa Barbara County has the second-highest number of both in the state. The operations are largely in North County, with 104.6 acres in Lompoc and 97.1 in the Santa Ynez Valley. Carpinteria is home to the largest slice of cannabis land in the South County and contains 67 acres of grows. Santa Maria Valley has 19.7 acres, Cuyama has 6.7, and Santa Barbara and Goleta have 2.1 acres. 

The board unanimously accepted the fourth quarter report, which can be found here.


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