Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis — a Santa Barbara County–based nonprofit that sprouted in 2017 as a way to encourage accountable and neighbor-friendly cannabis businesses on the Central Coast — filed a lawsuit Thursday against several cultivators, including Ceres Farms, Valley Crest Farms, and the Van Wingerden Family Trust, alleging that the growers are sustaining a stinky public nuisance with their subpar odor abatement.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Robert Curtis of Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, who previously led a nuisance lawsuit that led to a settlement resulting in Carpinteria’s first permanent “carbon scrubber” filtration system. Curtis is representing the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis and three individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Chonnie Bliss Jacobson and the owners of the Rose Story Farm, Dr. William Hahn and Dani Dall’Armi.

The main goal of the lawsuit, according to a statement released by the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, is not to get monetary compensation but instead to push these specific cultivators to use carbon scrubbers, a “proven and effective odor abatement technology,” which the group says is preferable to the chemical masking agents that have “plagued residents of the area” for years. 

“These growers are not the ‘good neighbors’ they claim to be,” Curtis said. “They continue to profit from their cannabis-growing operations at the expense of their neighbors, who no longer can enjoy their homes and neighborhoods because of the terrible and persistent smell. Cannabis continues to be a problem for the people of Carpinteria, and you don’t need a courtroom to prove it: All you have to do is step outside.” 

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the foul odor from the Carpinteria-based cultivators has affected their properties nearby, lowered property values, and forced them to endure an “ever-present noxious odor in their homes, neighborhood, and on roads” from the cultivation and processing of cannabis.

The group also made it clear that they are not anti-cannabis, but instead are advocating for, as the name suggests, responsible practices for cannabis cultivators in the county, something they argue should have been baked into the county’s ordinance when it was first introduced in 2016.

Last year, it seemed as if the county was making progress toward getting growers in line with the newest technology. In December 2022,  it was all but agreed that the growers would all convert to carbon scrubbers. But several of the growers have still not made the switch, the lawsuit alleges, forcing the group to take matters into their own hands and into the courtroom.

“We find it unfortunate that yet again, our small nonprofit needs to do the work of the County — simply modify the ordinance, and let’s move forward,” said Lionel Neff, director of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis. “We took the time and money to test carbon scrubbers and sent the results to the Board of Supervisors, yet still nothing has happened.” 

Litigation was meant to be a last resort, but with the growers continuing to use chemical masking agents while others have moved toward the newer technologies, and the county ordinance still unchanged, the group felt like a lawsuit was the only way to tackle the issue of the persistent smell on Casitas Pass Road.

“We have been at this now, unfortunately, for years,” said Coalition for Responsible Cannabis boardmember Jules Nau. “But it has given us an incredible perspective, and we now know what works and what doesn’t. Carbon scrubbers work. Spraying chemicals in the air is not a long-term solution. It’s time for the county to fix this problem, but if they can’t, the Coalition will protect those of us who live with this nuisance through lawsuits like this.”

Representatives for Ceres Farms, Valley Crest Farms, and the Van Wingerden Family Trust could not be reached for comment before publication.


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