The author is a Santa Barbara County resident.
Another week, another article — this one in The Wall Street Journal, which followed on the heels of an NPR piece — about our Cannabis County. Every national story, and there have been many, is like a drip that slowly corrodes our historic Santa Barbara brand.
The story itself contained certain familiar themes: the odor, property values, and the reality that cannabis tax revenues continue to underwhelm. What I found sadly laughable, however, were statements by certain pols that they were doing “everything” they could about the smell. Allow me to lay down some truth, because the more I speak with friends about this issue, the more I realize they know just enough to be dangerous, but not nearly enough to rebut the masterful spin of our elected officials.
Smell is neither an idea nor a philosophical concept; it is a physically measurable reality. This is the reason why other jurisdictions mandate scientific odor testing at the grower property line. Not here, where residents are subjected to an Andersen-like reality. Any human: “I’m really enjoying [Padaro Beach, Wine Country, etc.] but the smell is noxious.” Investor/grower: “I’m not smelling anything.” Any human: “Huh?”
I grudgingly admire the investors/growers. They twisted a political system that was ripe for the twisting, but I’d ask them to temper this particular message. It is insulting.
We are a $950 million county being managed without a shred of sophistication. Residents, attorneys, and community groups continue to bow at the altar of our county’s political monarchy, yet nothing changes. They speak vaguely about odor eradication, but without measurement and process, it’s all spin. While I don’t discourage hope, I am cynical, and until these pols demonstrate their objectivity by requiring scientific testing and sealed greenhouses, I’ll continue to be cynical. I dare them to prove me wrong.
Other counties limit the size of their cannabis farms — Prop. 64 banned large grows until 2023 — yet Santa Barbara County created a loophole without an upper-acreage limit. These are the reasons why the county is now home to the largest pot grows, some in excess of 25 acres, in the world. This is important because in jurisdictions with much smaller farms (Humboldt has 6-acre limits), the odors have been shown to travel for a mile or more. Therefore, as new grows come online, the odor zone will expand. It’s coming! Don’t be complacent or point uncaringly at your friends, neighbors or 200 wineries/avocado farmers whose very existence is threatened, and shout “not me.” Stand instead for a united county where honesty, erudition and the adoption of fixes like scientific testing and sealed greenhouses can bring harmony.
For years, marijuana industry publications have written about the efficacy and jurisdictional preference for sealed greenhouses. Unlike Santa Barbara County greenhouses, these facilities do not vent; hence, no odor. Again, this is the mandated standard in other jurisdictions. Here, however, the industry helped craft the ordinance, and sure — if given the choice — why saddle yourself with greater costs, even if they would help to protect our collective values, health and quality of life, i.e., love thy margins, screw thy neighbor.
Of course, had our pols pushed back even slightly, perhaps minimally, newly constructed greenhouses would be sealed. Instead, even these facilities have vents that extend into the sky like a huge middle finger to every resident who cares to notice. What’s truly maddening is that as big venture continues to move in, offering memoranda abound, county mandates could easily be embedded as a cost of doing business. The ROIs would still be crazy good, even with the additional capital expenses.
The article also mentioned the anemic cannabis tax revenue, $5.6 million in year one. Remember, this is revenue not profit, and — don’t forget — because our pols decided to tax based on cash revenue rather than verifiable acreage, the county lost as much as $30 million in year one alone. Don’t you think this would have caused some consequence or, minimally, a re-examination of this sweetheart scheme? Nope, not in our Banana Republic County, where there is apparently neither oversight nor accountability.
There is so much more, but for now I’m hoping we can all agree — everything is subjective, at least in the land of Santa Barbara County.