Cannabis Growing Rapidly in Carpinteria
By Ben Williams, Headmaster of Cate School
If you have driven down Casitas Pass Road near the fruit stand, surely you have noticed the pungent odor of cannabis. On rainy days, the cloud cover persistently traps the smell in Carpinteria — a smell which permeates beyond the “buffer” zone.
Perhaps you are unaware that the County of Santa Barbara recently passed one of the most lenient Commercial Cannabis Ordinances in the State. There are many factors that have kept the majority of our community in the dark. Without a broadly read daily newspaper of record, there are relatively limited means to distribute critically important information about the County’s activities. And, understandably, the historic Thomas Fire and ensuing debris flows have pulled public attention away from other County issues.
While the majority of the population of Santa Barbara County has been justifiably focused on the Thomas Fire, the floods, and the debris flows, the County has been busy signing off on “temporary licenses” for cannabis growers. As a result, there have been more temporary licenses issued in Carpinteria than any other county (including Humboldt) in the state. We have unwittingly become the Cannabis Capital of California.
While voters in the County largely supported Prop 64, the state law permitting personal and medical cannabis use, our County has gone even further by allowing large-scale commercial cultivation and industrial manufacturing in our own backyard. In contrast, most counties have banned commercial cultivation due to its adverse impacts (including Ventura County); others have imposed reasonable limits on the number of operations (including San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles County). Santa Barbara County is one of the only counties allowing both unlimited cannabis operations and vertical integration, which will allow this drug to be grown, manufactured (using dangerous chemicals), and distributed on agriculturally zoned land. Say goodbye to our lemons, avocados, and flowers.
We understand that Santa Barbara County is in dire need of funds due to its significant projected budget deficit, which has been exacerbated by the projected shortfall in Montecito property tax revenue. Despite a series of reports from consultants about the limited and widely variable income likely to be derived from cannabis operations, and multiple warnings from law enforcement about the drawbacks of welcoming the industry -- including increased risk to public safety and the presence and influence of organized crime -- the County seems to be banking on cannabis as a means to pay its bills.
That’s a risky gamble, especially when we consider what could be lost in this gambit. Carpinteria is no longer the bucolic town it once was. Major security fences now obscure former flower businesses. Our air is befouled. Traffic has increased, and Casitas Pass Road is a virtual parking lot as roads are filled with cars belonging to cannabis employees. This is just the beginning now that the County has created perhaps the most cannabis-friendly environment in the State. While we commend the County for attempting to address unregulated and illegal cannabis activities, the solution is not to welcome an unlimited number of growers into the County.
We at Cate School have been fighting since this issue was introduced and continue to advocate for strict odor controls on greenhouses and a ban on outdoor cannabis growing in the Coastal Zone. We continue to urge the County Supervisors to protect Carpinteria by adopting caps on the amount of land that can be cultivated in order to protect our unique Valley and coastal resources. We urge you to attend next Tuesday’s hearing in Santa Barbara to express support for reasonable caps on cannabis operations. The Carpinteria community needs to be aware of these new developments in cannabis licensing.
Because the Coastal Commission has not yet approved the County’s Ordinance, there is also still time to contact our Coastal Commissioner and register concern. Our Commissioner is Erik Howell: (415) 904-5202, Erik.Howell@coastal.ca.gov.
Also, while the ordinance is being implemented, you may call the County (Steve Mason at 805-568-2070) to register complaints if you smell cannabis odors, suspect illegal or noncompliant operations, or experience other adverse impacts.
Finally, over the next year, the community should pay attention as new cannabis operations sprout up and comment on the efficacy of the County’s cannabis regulations. Remember, the County may impose additional restrictions on cannabis growers, and thus citizens should use their voices to demand regulations that adequately protect the residents and organizations in our idyllic coastal community. There is too much at stake here, and we can be distracted no longer.