Credit: Cannabis Tours / WikiMedia Commons

A major glut in cannabis production and a corresponding plunge in pot prices resulted in Santa Barbara County collecting 43 percent less in cannabis revenues in the fourth quarter of 2021 than the same period last year. That’s a drop from $5.5 million to $3.8 million. 

Even so, county cannabis revenues increased by $3.5 million for the year, growing from $12.2 million last year to $15.7 million. Brittany Heaton, the county’s de facto cannabis czar, told the supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting that overproduction may have driven the price per pound down. Industry representatives also suggested that 2020 cannabis profits were especially spectacular because so many cannabis customers were in COVID lockdown.

What was clear at this meeting is that county staff is still struggling to understand the explosive new industry. Permit applications greatly exceed the number of county personnel needed to process them. And the 1,575 inland acres of space that supervisors allowed for cultivation is not making things easier.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino wondered why 11 “operators” had not even filed any tax returns with the county and why 43 were not reporting any taxable income. Little wonder that the county tax collector just hired someone to specialize in auditing cannabis operators.

Even though greenhouse cannabis, supervisors were told, still fetches $1,200-$1,500 on the open market, rather than the $40 per pound for outdoor cannabis, it comes with its own headaches. In the past year, the county received 495 complaints about odors emanating from Carpinteria greenhouses. In all cannabis operations, greenhouse or outdoors, Sheriff’s deputies made 10 arrests for illegal cultivation, eradicated 6,975 plants, and seized an estimated $6.1 million worth of product. 

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