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SLO County: Restricting Requirements of Newly Imposed Ordinance

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The new marijuana ordinance in San Luis Obispo county may cause problems for local farmers.
Photo courtesy of Rotational / Creative Commons


By Dominike Tambazidis
Special Contributor
Journalism 204

Alan Reitz wakes up each morning before the sun peeks through the mountains, and heads to the fields where he tends his crops until the nightfall.  He has lived in San Luis Obispo for 40 years and began growing the popular California crop — cannabis —  for medical providers a couple of years ago

But Reitz’ business may be in jeopardy.

He has to pack up everything he owns, replant his crops, and move out of his beloved home in order to maintain a living.

Reitz isn’t the only medicinal marijuana farmer who will be facing this scenario.

In an unexpected move, the county has passed such strict ordinances regarding growing recreational marijuana that it is effectively shutting down medical grows that have been legal for more than 20 years. — seriously affecting growers and the chronically or terminally ill.

“When I went to the board of supervisors meeting for the ordinance, in my presentation I included that SLO County has always argued that they are for small businesses and developing businesses, and yet they voted for big businesses and corporations,” Reitz said.

Deborah Caldwell is in a similar situation.

Caldwell, who runs her own medicinal marijuana farm in Cayucos, can’t renew her permit. Now  she doesn’t have a plan for income in 2018.

“I have no idea what I will do. I have grown for five years and now [the county] is robbing me of my job,” Caldwell said. For the next few months she will be scouring through local newspapers  for a job.

Many like Reitz and Caldwell are outraged by the new ordinance. Some families who are now going out of business have been cultivating marijuana for over two decades.

There are about 400 growers in SLO County. Of those,  only 141 people who signed up for a 2018 permit will be accepted.  Furthermore, given the restrictions, only a quarter of the 141 will be able to meet the county’s guidelines, according to County Supervisor Adam Hill.

After five long meetings, SLO County’s Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 for the ordinance, which will effectively put medicinal marijuana out of business by Jan. 1, 2018. This will, in turn, limit availability.

The bill also banned dispensaries outright; newly added no-storefront provisions keep dispensaries from opening in Paso Robles and Atascadero. Some cancer patients dependent on medicinal alternatives are also affected and concerned about cost and availability.

Besides the bud, dispensaries offer great medicinal alternatives. Chemical opioids require constant prescription fillings and expensive pharmaceutical prices.

Marijuana’s natural chemical compounds give non-smokers different choices. These medicinal alternatives include: oil oral droplets, water vaporized THC, tinctures for arthritis, medicated treats, and a lot more.

Zoe Hignel, a Cuesta student, has a grandmother in Paso Robles who is a cancer patient. At first, the grandmother was using prescribed pharmaceuticals to help her illness. After terrible side effects of constant nausea and vomiting, she found out she was prescribed the wrong medication.

HIgnel’s grandmother is a non-smoker, but began to use medicinal marijuana alternatives. She was looking forward for an easy way to get her preferred medication but without legal dispensaries, she struggles to find remaining medicinal marijuana providers who offer those alternatives.

For decades, these farmers have been pursuing their personal American Dreams. New land restrictions for medicinal growers makes it a nightmare for those wanting to advance in the industry.

The ordinance is so strict it requires the farmer to have a minimum of 50 acres land. The crops also have a distance requirement 300 feet from any other property.

“They are really restricted; far more than makes sense for one to successfully own and have a cannabis growing business” said Hill,“I think it is a mistake.”

Personal growers will have to spend money on outside sources due to plant growing limitations.

Personal growers who do not want to purchase from medicinal dispensaries, under the new ordinance, have the right to grow up to six medical plants. This affects heavy users that depend on larger amounts of medicinal marijuana instead of pharmaceuticals. On top of that, all growing activity must be done indoors (greenhouses outside are okay).

“The opposing board members did not take in for consideration that those who will comply and move their plants indoors, they will have to spend more money on indoor lighting and lamps,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, “Cal Fire claims there to be a higher risk of having house fires.”

Like most crops, marijuana produces a strong odor right before blooming. Supervisor Lynn Compton states this is a reason some citizens vote in favor for the ordinance.

“The issue with the new compliance is the fact that all of the developing growing industries will start working in the shadows and that, to me, is reversing everything we have done to shed light on the simplicities of this medicinal crop,” said Marie Roth, President of SLOCCBA (San Luis Obispo County Cannabis Business Admin.), “while these small businesses have been busy positioning their seat at the table so have inventors, investors and large corporations,”

Limiting permits and restricting new potential enterprises allows those with a financial advantage to take over family-owned farm businesses that have been operating legally.

The three supervisors who voted for the county regulations had their own ideals. They were hesitant since marijuana was once classified with hallucinogenic drugs.

“They are not used to this new cultural change and believe we should be careful and go slow.” Hill said. “I think they made it impossible and did not consider the amount of economic damage it would do to hundreds of farmers.”

These American farmers after challenging government drug classifications, giving marijuana’s natural chemicals medicinal legitimacy, and getting recognition for the positive economic output; struggle once again and face the obstacle of big businesses taking over their lifestyle.