Santa Barbara County’s licensed cannabis growers could lose some of the acreage they secured under the cap if they fail to cultivate the total they applied by their third license renewal, the Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday.

Supervisors voted 4-1, with 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson dissenting, to approve the ordinance changes proposed by staff, after making some modifications, despite objections of growers, one of whom said the new rules meant “certain death” for small, family operations.

The revised ordinance amendment will return to the board for final approval at its Nov. 29 meeting and, if approved, will become effecting 30 days later.

Growers would essentially have three years to phase in the full acreage in their land use entitlements, and once that is reached would only be required to maintain 80% of that total.

If they failed to reach their full acreage by their third license renewal, they could have the acreage they hadn’t cultivated go back into the acreage cap to be offered to the next person in line on the capacity waiting list.

Brittany Heaton, the county’s principal cannabis analyst, said there are about six operators waiting for 220 acres on the waiting list, and the state has issued 40 licenses to county operators that are collectively growing 400 to 500 acres.

The ordinance amendment would also allow growers to not cultivate for as long as eight months, a change the board made from the staff-recommended four months, to accommodate operations that have just one harvest a year, and allow fallowing land every three years.

Nelson said he voted no because the changes were making the process too complicated and because the state calculates “cultivated acres” differently for its operating licenses than the county does for its business licenses.

He supported a delay in voting on the ordinance changes, as cannabis cultivators had requested, to give the staff time to meet with growers and potentially come up with alternative solutions.

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart also supported the delay.

“We ought to think carefully about the burden we’re putting on the folks who have tried very hard,” Hart said. “It can’t hurt to have more conversation with the farmers who are affected by this.”

Marc Chytilo, representing Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, said the organization supported the changes.

But the next six speakers from the cannabis industry opposed them and asked for more time to work out solutions with the staff.

“The unintended consequences to the proposed changes are enormous, for most fatal and for some illegal,” said Sara Rotman, co-owner of Busy Bee’s Organics, a 22-acre cannabis farm on Highway 246.

“Most importantly, they rob local farmers of the only reliable survival tool available to them, which is adaptability,” she said, noting farmers survive by adapting to market, field and drought conditions.

“Here in Santa Barbara County, we have had boom crops from sugar beets to cattle, from broccoli to strawberries, from dairy cows to winegrapes and now, cannabis,” Rotman said.

“What’s different for cannabis farmers is the onerous regulation and taxation already placed on our compliant farmers here in Santa Barbara County.”

She said her company chose to fallow land after five years of growing, in part because current market prices for cannabis are less than one-third the cost of growing it.

“But the considered changes take that decision away from the farmer and put my farm, my home, my family and the entitlement I spent years and millions of dollars to obtaining at risk,” Rotman said.

“The proposed changes mean certain death for any independent family farm like mine by requiring farming at a loss.”

But 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said it is an issue of having a strong regulatory process.

“We need to make sure the people who are growing are taxed and people who have permits are growing,” Williams said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said cannabis operators knew they were coming into a highly regulated industry that the county must control.

“We’re in your business,” Lavagnino said. “That’s the way it works. … This isn’t regular agriculture. … I don’t care about cannabis that doesn’t give us any revenue. … If we’re not going to change the cap, we have to have rules like this.”

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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