Guest commentary | Keep Big Cannabis Out Of Local, Rural Neighborhoods – Santa Cruz Sentinel


By Sara Broadbent

The Sentinel editorial (Nov. 21) says that because zoning allows large cannabis operations to be pursued, it unfortunately misses the point. Zoning may allow operations on Crest Drive in La Selva Beach, but the Santa Cruz County Board of Directors had the option to protect local residents, just as they did for city dwellers near cannabis retail stores. You didn’t do it.

For many of us who think of a cannabis farm, it’s a few acres in a remote area where your quirky high school friend grows some grain on the side for a small profit.

With legalization, that changed in California. Cannabis is big business with quality control, safety issues, and the need to maximize profits. They optimized the business by creating huge cannabis factories that produce products with predictable schedules and quality. And what makes this product even more profitable is that it is labeled as a crop by the state of California so it can be produced on cheap farmland (though it’s still not legal at the federal level).

Here’s why you should care. Because of their connection to farmland, the cannabis industry is moving to rural areas and instead of farming as we know it, they are building industrial cannabis complexes.

In the Crest neighborhood, a cannabis license applicant wants to build 220,000 square feet of cannabis buildings in the heart of the neighborhood. This neighborhood is not against cannabis as they already have two cannabis nurseries nearby, but they are against an industrial operation in a neighborhood of single family homes and small farms.

The Sentinel noted, 22 people spoke to the district overseers on behalf of protecting rural communities (concentrated in South County), but the three northern superiors voted with the very few cannabis advocates who showed up for the meeting. Your voice will enable industrial-style growhouses within 60 meters of homes.

Supervisors Caput and Friend spoke on behalf of the rural neighborhoods but were told that the vote should be in the best interests of the county. The overseers promised to protect neighborhoods when they originally passed the cannabis regulation, but their vote suggests that they only want to protect the neighborhoods in their own districts.

While cannabis holds the promise of big bucks for both the breeders and the county, it’s currently an unrealized promise as wholesale cannabis prices continue to fall. The county expects us to believe that with limited staff, they tightly control all aspects of the cannabis business to prevent black market profits. However, a recent article by Politico describes how farmers make more money on the black market than they do on the regulated legal market.

There are more than 1,400 parcels in the county that could apply for a cannabis license, and the county’s staff plan for 40% of those parcels to become cannabis-enabled. Say goodbye to your neighborhood apple farm and strawberry field as the county makes it easier to switch to the energy- and water-intensive non-food plant of cannabis. Anyone living next to commercial farming property should be prepared to see their new neighbor – a large, out-of-county cannabis operator.

As reported in the Sentinel, “Merced Investment Co. LLC does not want to be in an area where they are undesirable.” Why would a neighborhood want a cannabis factory in the heart of their community and on the doorstep of their daycare center and next to a state park and environmental reserve? Why would the neighbors want the constant roar of electricity usage (which will supposedly meet the infrastructure needs of three Costco stores), two-meter high security fences that make the property look like a prison, and 18-wheel vans racing up and down, want? single lane country roads?

Cannabis factories have their place in industrial areas. Let’s keep farm demarcated property for real farming.

Sara Broadbent is a resident of Watsonville.