Santa Cruz County Finds Cannabis Compromise

By R.E. Graswich

Santa Cruz County supervisors have come a long way in a short time on medical cannabis cultivation. The board moved from a ban in April to a flexible permit ordinance that will likely be approved on consent Tuesday, December 15.

The Santa Cruz experience shows how a county can misjudge an issue, but quickly recover.

In April, county supervisors voted 3-2 to ban all cannabis cultivation beyond 100 square feet for personal use. The ban was in response to what authorities claimed were alarming increases in illegal cultivation and environmental damage — but county officials underestimated public reaction.

Within a month, community activists gathered more than 11,000 signatures to place the ban ordinance on the June 2016 ballot. After the initiative qualified, supervisors rescinded their ban in August and appointed a community committee to study cannabis cultivation and related industries in Santa Cruz County.

The committee wrapped up its work in early December with a series of recommendations. Among the recommendations was an extension of the committee’s duties until June 30, which is also on Tuesday’s county board consent calendar.

Having gone from a ban and initiative petition drive to a non-controversial consent item, Santa Cruz supervisors navigated a contentious issue with community outreach and buy-in.

The new ordinance on Tuesday’s consent calendar creates three cultivation categories — personal (100 square feet maximum), Cottage Garden (200 square feet max) and Cultivation Level (500 square feet max). The Cottage Garden and Cultivation permits allow sales and are designed for low-density parcels of at least one acre.

More cultivation permit categories can be added in 2016, the ordinance says, and keeps the county in compliance with new state regulations on medical cannabis.

R.E. Graswich is a communications strategist and consultant for the cannabis industry, non-profits, public agencies and trade organizations in California. He serves as an educator and project coordinator for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. An author and journalist, Graswich wrote “Vagrant Kings: David Stern, Kevin Johnson and the NBA’s Orphan Team (I Street Press, 2013), an Amazon best-seller. He was a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and broadcaster for CBS 13 and KFBK radio in Sacramento.