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Urgency medical marijuana growing ordinance in the works for San Luis Obispo County

Unlike this illegal planting on USFS land, many of the marijuana crops in San Luis Obispo County's California Valley are currently legal under state law.

San Luis Obispo County staff is currently working to draft an urgency ordinance designed to restrict new cultivation of medical marijuana within the County and outright ban it in certain areas.

The move comes following a 3-2 vote by SLO County Supervisors this week who were urged to do so by County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

New Times Reporter Jono Kindade discussed his recent piece on the issue with KCBX News Director Randol White.

NOTE: This transcript is from an interview that was edited for time purposes:

Randol White: Why does the Sheriff feel an urgency ordinance is necessary at this time, Jono?

Jono Kinkade: What appeared to be predominantly driving him is, there's a situation going on out in the California Valley, which is in the Carrizo Plains area... 

White: Far eastern SLO County... 

Kinkade: Far eastern SLO County off 58. And, there it's very flat, land is cheap and people from both this area and elsewhere have taken to coming in, buying the land and planting marijuana. As far as anybody can tell, most of it is legal under medical marijuana laws, but they're doing this right out in the open, setting up these plots of anywhere from 50 to 99 plants. It's very visible, it's a tight-knit community. People there like their privacy and they're worried about outsiders, they're worried about crime, they're worried about environmental damage and their water supply. And, there's been over 100 grows put in, in the last few months and that's growing every day.

White: KCBX did a piece back in May regarding the growth of marijuana operations like this in southern Monterey County, specifically King City and Greenfield are seeing a huge surge in commercial real estate prices. In some cases, these communities seem to be courting the growers. Does the County not see an opportunity here?

Kinkade: They're expressing some caution in terms of trying to really have a clear idea of how this would impact the area. You do have some agriculturalists. There's a group called the Central Coast Growers Association. It's kind of some old-school ag folks that are very interested in working with the county and trying to make this an agricultural cash crop. That said, Grover Beach is one of the cities locally that's been expressing a lot of interest. They're looking to tax marijuana, they're putting that on the November ballot.

White: As is Santa Barbara.

Kinkade: Correct.

White: So, why the urgency ordinance. Are there not already laws in the books that can control the industry through code enforcement?

Kinkade: Well, that's part of the discussion that the Board of Supervisors had on Tuesday and will continue to have. So, code enforcement laws, there are several codes that have been actively used out in the California Valley. And code enforcement, the planning department is very clear to say that they are not targeting marijuana specifically. They're doing it, kind of a sweep of all code violations in that area and that net has caught a high percentage of those being marijuana grows. But, because it's legal and protected under a voter referendum they don't want to target medical marijuana.

White: So, two Supervisors, Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, voted against directing staff to created an urgency draft. What are their arguments and doesn't this need four-out-of-five to pass when the urgency ordinance goes before the Supervisors.

Kinkade: Yes, it will need four-out-of-five votes. And, the impression I got from Supervisors Hill and Gibson was that they were a little bit cautious of this ordinance, wanting to understand the bigger impacts that it would bring and they were asking, 'do we not have other abilities at our disposal to regulate this.' But I think there were some concerns that this might be a far-reaching response to an isolated issue, and I know that there are a lot of marijuana growers that have been here operating for a long time that are concerned that this urgency ordinance might take them out at the knees.