The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

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The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis
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Graham Farrar is the president of CARP Growers, an association that represents 20 out of 27 legal commercial cannabis operations in the Carpinteria Valley (Photo by Melinda Burns)

By Melinda Burns

Scott Van Der Kar, an avocado grower in the Carpinteria foothills, thought he was immune to the cannabis controversy that has roiled neighborhoods closer to town.

Van Der Kar’s 50 acres on Shepard Mesa Road, where he also has lemons and cherimoyas, have been unaffected by the skunk-like stench from cannabis greenhouses and the semi-trailer truck traffic that has triggered a barrage of opposition in the valley below. Even as the Carpinteria Valley became a mecca for commercial cannabis cultivation, the 70-year-old avocado industry was conducting business as usual … until now.

“The cannabis industry has forced significant impacts on the community and expected the community to adjust,” Van Der Kar said. “Once it starts reaching into the orchard business, all of a sudden it gets personal.”

Last month, he said, avocado growers were “broadsided” by the news that the Oxnard-based pest control companies that treat their crops would no longer spray the insecticides that work best on avocados, for fear of contaminating cannabis crops with the slightest trace of residue and getting sued.

“This has come to the forefront so quickly that people are turning every which way to try to figure out what to do,” Van Der Kar said. “We’re reeling from it.”

The growers’ quandary has sent county officials scrambling to find a solution, and  there’s not a moment to lose. Spraying takes only a couple of hours or a couple of days, but the window for next year’s crop is now through June, to prevent the trees from defoliating and the avocados from turning brown, like Russet potatoes.

“I understand why they’re so freaked out,” said county Supervisor Das Williams, who represents the Carpinteria Valley. “Normally, I support the strongest regulation against pesticides, but the state regulations for cannabis are ridiculous and impractical. Even the organic insecticides are not allowed.”

This week, at Williams’ urging, the board of directors of the Cannabis Association for Responsible Producers, or CARP Growers, representing 20 out of 27 legal commercial cannabis operations in the valley, announced that its members would sign an agreement not to sue the avocado growers or the pest control companies during two weeks this spring while the orchards are sprayed. The dates are still to be determined. Only organic pesticides would be covered; the most common one is made from a naturally-occurring organism in the soil.

“We’re open and willing to setting aside a period of time for agreed-on applications of pesticides on avocado trees,” said Graham Farrar, the CARP Growers president. “We’re hoping and trying to make the adjustments we can to work cooperatively.”

Farrar, who owns Glass House Farms, a medium-sized greenhouse operation for cannabis on Casitas Pass Road, said he was hopeful that an agreement could be signed this month. As part of the deal, the county Agricultural Commissioner’s office would provide monitors to help ensure there is no pesticide “drift” beyond orchard boundaries.

“Emotions are high about this, but we may have a solution,” Williams said. “The future of avocados in the Carpinteria Valley is very important. We need multiple crops, not one.”

Scott Van Der Kar grows avocados on Shepard Mesa Road in the foothills high above Carpinteria (Photo by Melinda Burns)

“Out of our control”

Van Der Kar, one of the few Carpinteria farmers earning 100 percent of his income from farming, said the agreement would help him with his organic avocados, but not his conventional, or non-organic, avocados and lemons. They require a pesticide that the proposed agreement wouldn’t cover. The alternative, Van Der Kar said, is to use a pesticide that is less effective, requires multiple applications and costs more money – or not spray at all, and risk spoiling those crops.

“It’s certainly better than what we were thinking we were faced with,” he said of the proposed agreement. “It’s a short-term solution for some growers.”

It will be difficult to set a time for spraying that suits all growers because every orchard is different, and so are fog conditions in the spring, Van Der Kar said. Even organic sprays typically have to be applied more than once to kill successive generations of insects, he said.

Having weathered droughts, heat waves and fire – he lost 40 acres of avocados in Ventura County during the Thomas Fire of 2017 – Van Der Kar said cannabis is “one more thing that seems to be out of our control.”

“Sure, the cannabis growers want us to be their friends, but what’s in it for us?” he asked. “We’re altering how we do our businesses and adding to our costs so that they can grow this crop which does not fall under my definition as true agriculture. We’re growing food and they’re growing a drug.”

Cannabis has replaced half the flower greenhouse industry in the Carpinteria Valley. California voters legalized marijuana in 2016 (Photo by Melinda Burns)


“The most regulated crop”

There are 2,200 acres of avocado orchards in the Carpinteria Valley; the county is limiting cannabis cultivation and processing business licenses to 186 acres. To date, county officials said, 36 cannabis growers have applied for land-use permits on 228 acres in the valley, so not all permit applicants will receive a business license. Of the 36 applicants, 27 are already operating in the valley, under state temporary or provisional licenses.

The cannabis growers like the idea of having county monitors on hand while the avocado orchards are sprayed because they themselves are highly regulated, Farrar said. They will close the vents on their greenhouse roofs and draw their shade curtains, or harvest their crop before the spraying begins.

As to the requirement for organic pesticides, Farrar said it was made in the spirit of compromise.

“The pressure that we’re under as cannabis farmers can be used to pressure other farmers to farm in an organic way,” he said. “Let’s make everybody do a better job. This level of oversight and regulation is something agriculture is not used to. Farming on all sides has to evolve.”

California voters legalized marijuana in 2016. In the Carpinteria Valley, cannabis has now replaced about half of the flower greenhouse industry, and, according to Farrar, it is “the most regulated crop in the history of agriculture.” Members of CARP Growers use beneficial insects on their crops, and zero pesticides, he said.

The state regulations for cannabis are so strict that last year, when a cannabis operator on Casitas Pass Road sprayed for ants in his office, he had to destroy his entire crop because the ants carried the spray into his greenhouse.

Of course, illegal cannabis greenhouses are unregulated. Since October, the county has shut down 30 illegal operations, five of them in the Carpinteria Valley. Just two weeks ago, county Sheriff’s deputies destroyed 35,000 plants in an illegal cannabis greenhouse on Via Real.

Avocado orchards and cannabis greenhouses are uneasy neighbors in the Carpinteria Valley (Photo by Melinda Burns)

“Major breakthrough”

In the end, the buck stops with the owners of Oxnard pest control companies, many of whom have forged decades-long friendships with their clients in the Carpinteria Valley. They must abide by the regulations: when it comes to the pesticides most commonly used on avocados, the state allows only one part per billion on cannabis.

“A claim by some of those high-priced cannabis operations could put us out of business,” said Rob Scherzinger, the founder and manager of Aspen Helicopters, Inc., an Oxnard company that has been spraying avocados in the Carpinteria Valley for 35 years. “We just can’t take the chance.”

Scherzinger said his company was in a “wait-and-see” mode regarding an agreement with the cannabis growers.

“We’re very encouraged, but very guarded also,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s pretty bullet-proof. We’re dealing with a lot of attorneys here.”

Terry Nelson, manager of the Oxnard Pest Control Association, called the proposed agreement “a major breakthrough,” but said he would like to see all of the cannabis growers on board.

“I’m excited about it, and I think it would be a good solution,” he said. “They all have to sign it, or we won’t accept it. We won’t spray anywhere near the cannabis growers who don’t sign.”

Without an agreement, Nelson said, he’d be willing to spray if there is a mountain between an avocado orchard and the nearest cannabis greenhouse.

“You put a cannabis operation in an agricultural area, it’s an absolute nightmare,” he said. “That’s one thing the politicians have been shortsighted on.”

Melinda Burns is a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara

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Frontado May 10, 2019 08:52 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Our family has lived off of 192 for nearly 43 years-- And all this time we've lived respectfully with our farmer neighbors. These same neighbors/friends are now growing cannabis, The Cleanest most Environmentally friendly product these greenhouses have ever grown. Cannabis growers use Ladybug Larvae as their pesticide, a small sprinter van every few days instead of those refrigerated semi trucks, pay their workers above average and contribute greatly to philanthropic causes. They've implemented state-of-the-art odor mitigation systems and are working constantly to improve it's effectiveness. Honestly, the smell from the polo fields can be 100% times worse some days.

As a Carpinteria native, I remember when avocados took over lemons and the positioning for placement among the farmers. I have no doubt our valley farmers will once again find a way to co-exist.

a-1557594279 May 11, 2019 10:04 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

The truth is cannabis is poison also; you're just too befuddled to admit it.
Do any growers recycle their water? The chemical burden they introduce to their irrigation water limits that. The acres of plastic netting. The impact on neighbors, neighborhoods and the community at large. All this for a non-essential non-food product with serious social consequences. Carpinteria yer screwed. The more stone the populace the easier it is to pull the wool over their eyes. Thank the County of Santa Barbara and the California voters, a pretty dim bunch.

biguglystick May 10, 2019 09:45 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

That is loveley, and an example of good people doing it right, and cannibis IS clean, except when they use pesticides on them. Illegal growers in Northern California widely spray nasty pesticides at will, with no regulations and the repercussions on wilife (the unintended victims) and the land and water are horrid. We need to regulate pesticides and start there! That is the REAL danger and harm to us and our water, wildlife, air and land. It's POISON.

a-1557462068 May 09, 2019 09:21 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

The avo and other citrus growers need to stop using pesticides. Period. What century is this, anyway? Why is ANYONE still allowed to spray toxic chemicals on food or anywhere else for that matter? It's despicable.

a-1557452307 May 09, 2019 06:38 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Illegal grow operations are not being weeded out. Just look at the bust on a huge illegal operation in Carpinteria on April 26 that was linked to another illegal operation on Sweeney Rd in Lompoc. The operator is still doing work illegally in Lompoc to this day. It’s like they don’t care and won’t stop until they’re put in jail. Nobody wants the operation in the neighborhood. The county even allowed this person with an abhorrent track record to file for an LUP. There needs to be way more accountability and the responsible cannabis operators should demand it.

CoastWatch May 09, 2019 02:49 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

It was mentioned in one of the comments the the MJ Growers are a BIG MONEY crop- That being said, they can and DO hire big gun attorneys from out the the area to represent their greedy stake in this market... They showed up last month at a Solvang City Council meeting in force (@ least five of these low-life attorneys) to threaten the Council when a retail operation was not approved for a particular building- Mind you, a PRIVATE building, owned by a private party who DID NOT WANT TO RENT HIS PROPERTY to the Retail Cannabis distributor... They (Pot Consortium Inc.) will do ANYTHING and go to any measure to make their MONEY.... It's ALL ABOUT THE MONEY...!!!

poupee1 May 09, 2019 02:28 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Some points need to be made here, to correct what all is above. Cannabis has been classified as a product, not a crop. In theory, no pesticides are allowed on cannabis. Practice might prove otherwise. I don't know about other chemicals that will be used in the growing process. The argument over smoking marijuana has little to do with the argument over growing cannabis in established neighborhoods. The smell of growing plants is nothing like the smell of smoke - it is far worse. You might as well ask a family of skunks to take up residence in your back yard and then startle them on a constant basis. Residents of Carpinteria have been telegraphing this message for a year now. In addition, there are the issues of lights for extra growing, extra traffic and thefts. Attracting thieves into a neighborhood of homes is not a good prospect. It has already happened in my area, and the nursery didn't even have a permit yet!

a-1557436085 May 09, 2019 02:08 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Cannabis farming is a wild west as everyone tries to cash in while they can. As soon as marijuana is legal in every state there will be mega-growers that put all these little guys out of business. The big growers will set up thousand acre facilities where land, labor, and utilities are cheap. That ain't California. Give it a few years and the entire Carp valley will go back to orchids, lemons, and avocados.

Rick Reeves May 09, 2019 05:18 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

This would be a good outcome for SBC, and it could happen.

OR, one of these future 'Big Guy' growers could simply buy out all of
the small operations in Carp Valley and consolidate them into
a single, economy-of-scale mega-operation. If this turns out to
be the highest and best use of Carp ag land, then it will happen
if the growers have a solid foothold in the area.

In any case, the owners/CEOs of any eventual grow operation may
widh to keep the operations in SBC because they are attracted
to the nearby Montecito/Hope Ranch lifestyle.

Factotum May 09, 2019 02:28 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

WSJ reports today cannabis investments are not paying off. Market much weaker than expected. Drug cartels don't give up territory without a fight and predicted sale tax revenues turned out to be bogus due to the expanded market and competition with illegal growers.

Rick Reeves May 09, 2019 02:06 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

We left SB last year after a 30 year residence.

Just AMAZING to read about this development. The avo growers learned to co-exist with every other adjacent land use since the 1960's. Hard to believe that the pot growers, whose crop lives INDOORS, cant accommodate their agricultural neighbors.

Observing the crisis from here in Washington State, I think that the California state and SB County governments can not resist the tax revenue from cannabis and thus must support them at the expense of everyone else in the community.

Well, Californians, all I can say is: You voted for this, now live with the consequences.

a-1557429058 May 09, 2019 12:10 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Let them sue. Since when is the new kid on the block allowed to dictate how everyone else raises the crops they've had for eons? If cannabis can't be raised near pesticides the growers should've gone where they can control what's in the air around them... or fight to change the prohibitively restrictive regs. I suppose bullying the neighbours is more satisfying than fighting city hall.... #MAGA, baby.

Sam The Dog May 09, 2019 01:48 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

It's a little different here. For years the avocado growers got away with overspraying there chemicals onto neighboring properties. Regardless of who moves in next door, agriculture of any form, housing, a school... it doesn't give the avocado growers the right to continue doing something they shouldn't be doing just because they always did it.

PitMix May 09, 2019 01:10 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Except that MJ is a high value crop, and those growers can hire expensive lawyers and make life miserable for ag owners who have much lower profit margins. Getting enmeshed in the legal system with a well-funded adversary is a nightmare.

a-1557430385 May 09, 2019 12:33 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Read the whole story. Nobody threatened to sue anyone and there's already a compromise to let them spray. It's kind of a moot point but interesting look at how the new crop has different set of rules than other ag products. People work stuff out and have.

Flicka May 09, 2019 12:01 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Good grief, saying avocados are not an important food is not knowing the facts. They are considered an important food with oils that enhance good health, highly recommended for a well balanced diet. As for local cannabis, much of what is grown in Carpinteria is for medicinal use. The Carpinteria flower growers have been choked out of business by cheap flowers from Latin American countries. The families who came from Holland in 1967 have enhanced our community by supporting many good causes locally and are good citizens. Some have switched to cannabis to continue making a living. Maybe the smokers who are complained about for the "smell" they leave should just switch to cannabis oil vapes, no smell and much less messy to smoke. Also, I believe, cheaper in the long run. Illegal growers are another problem altogether but seem to getting weeded out.

PitMix May 09, 2019 01:26 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

And our local avo growers have to compete with imports with other countries with cheap labor and no restrictions on pesticide use. In some areas south of the border, they are still using DDT and other pesticides that are banned in the US. "Today, DDT is manufactured in North Korea, India, and China........."

Fitness1 May 09, 2019 10:15 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

I hated the idea of the cartels setting up illegal grows in our forests, killing wildlife, diverting streams, applying pesticides, etc. Not to forget that the 2009 LaBrea fire was caused by an illegal grow camp. The two illegal grow areas right off Jesusita trail made me very nervous to hike alone up there. (Even though both are now 'gated' off, still not sure they are both really out of operation.)So I voted for legalization, even though I'll never indulge. Not so sure now this was the right thing to do. A few months ago was backpacking near Big Sur and a helicopter kept circling. I later saw a Ranger and asked if it was SAR and if anyone was injured. He said it was DEA looking for illegal grows. I said I thought legalization would take care of that and he said, no, they still set up in CA and sell to neighboring states. Now this unanticipated issue with our local avocado farmers. I do think food should take priority, but having lost several friends to cancer, I also understand the medicinal value during chemo. Maybe re-zoning could somehow separate the two operations? No easy answers.

a-1557420244 May 09, 2019 09:44 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

I just read a story about how spraying chemicals from helicopters isn't really contain and drifts everywhere. The comments are "down with cannabis." Backwards world. How about stop killing the bees and polluting the earth and water. Stop raining nerve gas from the sky.

Flicka May 09, 2019 09:35 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

My understanding is that all the chemicals used in agriculture weren't around until after WWII. How did farmers feed the country without them? These chemicals, pesticides, are proven to be detrimental to our health.

SantaBarbaraObserver May 09, 2019 11:33 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Soy, feed corn and crops like almonds and pecans are exported and / or subsidized. They are not fed to the people of the US. People dont eat feed corn or the types of soy grown in mass in the mid-west. They are used for other purposes - feed, chemicals, industrial uses etc. You sound like a parrot of the right-wing talk shows Facto as well as a clear relic of the last centuries thinking. Its not only disingenuous to compare high profit crops that exploit our resources, our tax laws, the labor pool and destroy the ecosystem, its flat out wrong to say they're for food. Many things were once common and a necessity have also gone the way of the buggy whip. The problem with our society is that there is far too much invested in the dogma of the past while ignoring its impact on the present and the future. We've poisoned our land, our water and our children in the name of short term profits. There is nothing virtuous about that fact. Its time to end the charade, kill the subsidies and let the farmers land revert to natural state if they cant make it work. We do not need avocados, almonds or the billions of strawberries that rot in the markets. We need clean water, air and an equal opportunity for our children to have decent chance at a safe, clean life and earth and crops that are both healthy for the land and the people.

Factotum May 09, 2019 10:10 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Track global population growth and amount of land use devoted to agriculture since WWII and see if this gives you the answer. More efficient per acre production methods to feed a growing global population pulled more people out of human misery than just about anything else. Turn the clock back if you want, but understand the human price paid.

Factotum May 09, 2019 09:09 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Why is escapism into drugs and alcohol such a big and growing industry? How much do individuals spend on booze and pot each year, that could be devoted to a downpayment on a house?

Factotum May 09, 2019 02:35 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Fermented beverages were also a factor of unreliable food storage, as well as contaminated water supplies. Neither problem exists today - today they are used for intoxicant qualities only. Other wise they are just empty calories beverages.

PitMix May 09, 2019 01:22 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

If you figure that one out, you can end the war on drugs and we can put all those resources spent on policing and rehab and mending broken families to better use. Fermented beverages were invented pretty early in our ag communities, though, so maybe it is a behavior that can't be altered?

SantaBarbaraObserver May 09, 2019 08:21 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

1,000,000 gallons per acre, per week. That's the toll that avocado orchards take on our water table. So cry me a river farmers, your entire business is based on the greatly imbalanced price of grandfathered water rights taken from the community at large. Perhaps its time we start thinking about how our laws and priorities create so many other problems? Why should we suffer so that a few farmers can profit? Allowing the profits from the public's resources to go to a few farmers for a crop that is neither a staple nor ecologically sound is not wise, nor prudent. And furthering the point, these guys are actually demanding the use of a poison on their crops so they can assure more profits! We dont need avocados, we need clean water and pesticide free air and soil.

PitMix May 09, 2019 01:18 PM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

1M gals per ac per wk is 3 ft of water across the whole acre per week. There is no way they are using that much. Nice scare tactic though. The farmer webpages say mature trees need 4 ft of water per YEAR. Young trees getting established slightly more.

Factotum May 09, 2019 10:15 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Ag in this area produces year round jobs - harvesting a crop is only one part of the yearly ag cultivation and maintenance cycle. Ag produces $20 an hour jobs that are legitimate. Just look at the shiny new trucks that border ag fields if you think these workers are being exploited.

Factotum May 09, 2019 10:13 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Too bad these alleged exemplary cannibis farming technique are not producing a valuable food crop instead of an expensive recreational diversion. That's capitalism for you. I can't argue that. Willing buyers meet willing sellers.

a-1557420537 May 09, 2019 09:48 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

cannabis growers are not using pesticides or sprays or allowing nitrogen to run off from greenhouses. In fact, beneficial insect companies are having a field day in this new industry. BioLine, BioBest ... all of the beneficial insect providers view cannabis cultivation as the cutting edge in beneficial insect use. Perhaps this will provide the real breakthrough that allows other farmers in other crops to take a hard look at their inputs and their "unintended consequences."

SantaBarbaraObserver May 09, 2019 09:39 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

The figures were taken from the CA Avocado industry's own figures. You're obviously using less irrigation than others (San Diego Co.) but you are using far more ground water than any other crop in an arrid region with cyclical, severe drought conditions. All for your own private profits. How much do you pay for your water (per acre ft)? How much poison to you use on your crops? What's is their true cost? How about your labor? Are you using legal workers or American's or are you just hiring whomever you can and to hell with the consequences? Nothing about avocados is a necessity for anyone but the private interests who own and profit from the cheap labor and subsidized water. Stop projecting. You're not entitled to your profits over the interests of the whole. If you cant do it without taking from us, from our children, you should not be doing it at all.

User1977 May 09, 2019 08:52 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

1,000,000 per week, you need to check your math. I use about 300,000-320,000 gallons per acre for the entire year! NEWSFLASH. Cannabis growers are spraying pesticides, anti fungal sprays and overusing nitrogen that leaches into the soil around their greenhouses. They just use them at certain times so the harvest does not include trace amounts.

Rinconer May 09, 2019 07:59 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Yet another in an apparent endless string of articles against legal weed.
Total number of EDHAT articles supporting a $40 billion annual industry in California = ZERO
Whoops, your editorial bias is showing.

a-1557418390 May 09, 2019 09:13 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

@Rinconer, did you read this? ....... it's a pro-pot article. Also, you can write your own and submit it to edhat to share your side of things.

a-1557412637 May 09, 2019 07:37 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

If "x" was the amount of cannabis used previous to legalization, and "y" was added to come up with a new total use of "z"; then what is the impacts on society? Who are in group "y" and why are they in that group? Counties that are setting grow regulations are not coordinating with each other. It's a fight for rights at this point. That's good, competitively, but points to a time where many of these growers are going to fall out of the competitive mix if total use doesn't skyrocket. Maybe it will.

CoastWatch May 09, 2019 07:15 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Clearly, cannabis has had a detrimental impact on communities all over the State. If it is primarily grown in greenhouses, why aren't growers building these greenhouses away from residential housing. The growers have an attitude of "it's my right" to bring this crop where ever I want... The County is currently dealing with homeowners live on 2-5 acre parcels with their family and having a new neighbor set up greenhouses on property lines to grow pot. The impacts are huge. Now this situation with avocado farmers... Another reason to blast these growers out into the abyss.

biguglystick May 10, 2019 09:57 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

Well, I'm with you on the screwy ordinances to ban RV parking... that is clearly aimed at the lower income part of society, and God forbid Santa Barbara County lets anyone SEE a poor person, let alone allow them to live here in any capacity. But as far as the NIMBY comment, I'm not with you on that.

a-1557417940 May 09, 2019 09:05 AM
The Unintended Consequences of Cannabis

COASTWATCH - for once, I somewhat agree with you. I live out in Winchester Canyon and we have 2 farms seeking permits to set up grows, one being less than a mile from a residential neighborhood. The residents are not happy. There are plenty of concerns, but most important to me is the risk to my property value. It's pretty screwy that the city of Goleta is debating an ordinance to ban us from parking RV's/campers/trailers in our OWN driveways, but the County is allowing pot farms to set up right next door to us. I'm 100% for legal weed, but I'll be honest - Not In My Backyard!

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