San Mateo County Allows Commercial Cannabis Cultivation

Photo: Vern Fisher

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance on Tuesday December 5 to allow limited commercial cultivation of cannabis in vacant greenhouses in unincorporated areas of the county, but maintain its ban on all other types of cannabis businesses. Coastside farmers facing flagging sales of cut flowers and other agricultural products have lobbied the county to allow them to grow cannabis as a new cash crop. The county has not moved to tax cannabis production.

“I think there’s tremendous upside to the cultivation of cannabis locally, it provides a tremendous opportunity,” said Supervisor David Canepa at the meeting.

To the dismay of several flower growers who commented at the meeting, the county’s new regulations won’t allow farmers to replace existing agricultural production with potentially more profitable cannabis instead. Only greenhouses smaller than 22,000 square feet that were vacant as of June 2017 are eligible to be licensed for cannabis cultivation. Greenhouses also must be 1,000 feet from any residence or school, and must incorporate security systems and follow strict operational procedures to reduce odor, noise, waste, energy, and water use.

“One of the reasons for this ordinance is to revitalize agriculture on the coastside,” said resident Matthew Killberg. “It’s in our best interest to allow cultivators to decide what they want to grow.”

“I want coastside agriculture to thrive,” said Moss Beach resident Lisa Ketchum. “We have breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Why force farmers to continue unprofitable flower agriculture?”

Support for cannabis cultivation in San Mateo County has been mixed, with many residents also opposing the green rush.

“My contention is that this does not accurately reflect the will of the majority of San Mateo County residents,” said resident Ann Martin. “Over 530 people have signed a petition asking the city to slow down on cannabis cultivation in Half Moon Bay.”

“What happened in Monterrey county is that greenhouses were filled with cannabis,” said resident Fred Crowder. “Those who wanted to continue growing conventional crops were unable to.”

But it looked like the Board members had made up their mind, seeing cannabis as a new cash crop for the county that can be developed with economic benefits.

“There is a willingness by the residents of our community to accept some cannabis in our lives,” said Supervisor Carol Groom. “We have decided not to take on dispensaries. We’ve been very restrictive deliberately.”

“We’re not allowing the full spectrum of activities that we could allow, such as retail dispensaries and micro-businesses,” said Supervisor Don Horsley. “This is a modest step that makes a lot of sense.”

The cultivation ordinance will take effect on January 12, 2018, and expire after one year if the Board takes no action.