At one time, San Luis Obispo County leaders say there were up to 250 illegal marijuana cultivation sites in California Valley.
“Cannabis cultivation or any cannabis activities have never been legal in California Valley or anywhere in the county for that matter up until the adoption of the recent permanent ordinance,” said Rob Fitzroy, the Deputy Director of San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building.
In September of 2016, San Luis Obispo County supervisors adopted an urgency cannabis ordinance stating farmers could keep their marijuana plants as long as they registered with the county.
“What the urgency ordinance did was sort of hit pause on all the grows as the county figured out what it wanted to do in developing a permanent ordinance and whether or not to allow cannabis cultivation in the county,” said Fitzroy.
Registering with the county came with requirements.
“They’d go on your property, they’d inspect, they’d tell you ‘hey if you have wood where you’re not supposed to have it, you have to remove it and to get your approvals, you had to do these things and spend the money,” said Alan Karow, an attorney representing about 60 migrant farm workers, mostly from Southeast Asia.
Karow says dozens of the farmers registered in California Valley with the intention of building a community there.
“These people did not come down here and go up in the woods and just start growing. They got registered, they got medical recommendations, they did everything lawful and it appears they’re paying for the people that were unlawful,” Karow said.
The registration forms included a disclaimer that warns applicants their registration would no longer be valid when the urgency ordinance expired or when the county adopted a permanent ordinance.
In November 2017, supervisors adopted an ordinance that prohibited growing marijuana in California Valley.
Now, the county is issuing hefty fines and ordering hundreds of people to clear out their crops.
Karow is fighting to get his clients some extra time to harvest their marijuana crops so they don’t lose all the money they put into properties.
“I offered them, I can get 60 to 70 of these people out of there but all you have to do is allow them to get through the season so they can recoup something because these are not rich people,” Karow said.
So far, the county says it’s held up to 75 hearings with the growers trying to find a compromise.
“Some of those sites have been abated through the county going out there, removing the plants, and destroying the plants,” Fitzroy said.
Karow says he’s been successful in getting an extension for a few of his clients. The rest may not be so lucky.
Right now, there are two cannabis businesses legally operating in San Luis Obispo County. There are 80 permit requests moving through the queue. Some of those are marijuana growers that are hoping to relocate from California Valley.