Cannabis Cultivation from the View of a Farmer
Cannabis cultivation continues to be a hot topic in San Luis Obispo County.
Some SLO county residents are hesitant to share their support for the industry for fear of scrutiny.
After Part One of this series, I received an email from someone who said they initially voted against the recreational use of cannabis but has since changed their mind and believes there are misconceptions on both sides of the debate.
The same person said they are hesitant to voice their opinion because of fear of negative public comments.
This is the second time someone has told me they feel this way.
Steve Shelburne, a resident of Paso Robles, is currently in the process of getting a permit through the County to grow cannabis on his property. He wanted to share his viewpoint on the cannabis industry entering SLO County from a farming perspective.
“I’ve had a little bit of push back from various entities. It’s something I’ve done a lot of research on to understand what the points of contention were and what the reality is,” said Shelburne.
Shelburne currently rents 80 acres of his property to an alfalfa farmer.
When cannabis was legalized, the farmer approached Shelburne with the idea of trading some alfalfa acres for cannabis.
“At first, I was reluctant, but then I did more research,” said Shelburne.
He continued, “I don’t use cannabis. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m just an average guy, but understanding there might be a better opportunity return on investment, I partnered with him to try to move the process forward.”
In June 2019, Shelburne and his partner formed SLOCann LLC, started the application process, and met with the County for their pre-application meeting.
During that meeting, the County laid out the process for Shelburne to apply for a minor-land-use permit–which is step one if you want to grow cannabis for commercial use legally.
Shelburne’s minor use permit is a public document that can be viewed by visting energov.sloplanning.org/EnerGov_Prod/SelfService#/search
His project number is DRC2020-00037 if you want to view his application.
Currently, Shelburne’s minor use permit is 35 percent complete. But, according to Shelburne, he has paid over $30,000 during the application process and has around $20,000 to go before he can even be considered for approval.
Right now, Shelburne’s permit is on a temporary hold due to outstanding funds, according to County Planning and Building Executive Assistant Katie Martin.
However, according to Shelburne, he does not show any outstanding invoices when he views his account.
Out of the nine applications submitted for his permit so far, only “Distribute Referrals” is marked failed on Jul. 14, 2020.
Martin explained, “Distribute referrals pertains to the application referrals that are sent to various County and outside agencies, such as Public Works, Cal Fire, Environmental Health, the Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, etc.”
She continued, “The fact that the dashboard indicates “failed” on Jul. 14, 2020, simply notes that this step was canceled or redone for some reason. There is another entry right above this entry that shows Distribute Referrals is marked as passed on Jul. 14, 2021. It is likely that there was an error with the first entry, and it had to be corrected. The only way to correct it is to “fail” the first attempt and create a new entry.”
Shelburne compares getting approved to grow cannabis to getting approved to build a strip mall.
The first step to growing cannabis in SLO County is getting approved for a minor use land permit.
To apply for a minor use land permit, the following documents need to be filed:
- General Application Contact Information
- Land Use – Project Information Form
- Environmental Description Form
- Information Disclosure form
- Land Use Consent of Property Owner form (only if the applicant does not own the property
- Hazardous Waste and Substances Statement Disclosure (PLN-1122)
Within these documents, the applicant needs the following reports submitted:
- Archeological Report
- Biological Report
- Botanical Report
- Geological Report
These are just a few of the reports and documents needed. You can review the complete application package by visiting slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Planning-Building/Forms-Documents/Land-Use-Permit-Forms-and-Documents/Land-Use-Permit-Application-Package/Land-Use-Permit-Application-Package.pdf
Currently, there are 78 applications somewhere in the process of getting their minor use permit for cannabis-related activities in SLO County.
According to Shelburne, the main concerns contributing to the negative stigma of cannabis are crime and odor.
“I’m expecting there will be some push back, but my biggest concern is that there is a lot of subjective bias and misinformation—I just don’t think that they’re educated, and I don’t blame them,” said Shelburne.
He continued, “At the end of the day, it will become a commodity—that will drive the price down. Once the price goes down, the illegal activity associated with cannabis will go away.”
Again, because the legalization of marijuana is relatively new, data for crime rates and marijuana legalization is limited.
According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) final report published Jun. 2020:
“We (NCJRS) found that marijuana legalization has not had an overall consistently positive or negative effect on matters of public safety. Instead, legalization has resulted in a varied set of outcomes, including concern about youth access to marijuana and increased drugged driving, a belief that there is increased cross border transference of legal marijuana to states that have not legalized, reports that training and funding for cannabis-related law enforcement activities have been deficient given the complex and enlarged role the police have been given, and the persistence of the complex black market. On the “positive” front, legalization appears to have coincided with an increase in crime clearance rates in several areas of offending and an overall null effect on rates of serious crime.”
The full report can be read by visiting nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/effects-marijuana-legalization-law-enforcement-and-crime-final-report
To start, Shelburne and his partner plan to trade two acres of alfalfa for two acres of cannabis. Then, if all goes well, they will expand another acre.
Those who oppose cannabis often use its high water needs as a factor against the crop.
According to Shelburne, water usage for alfalfa and cannabis are comparable. Because he is trading alfalfa acres for cannabis, his water usage is not expected to change significantly one way or the other.
One alfalfa farmer says that one acre of alfalfa needs about five inches of water every 25 days, depending on soil conditions and temperatures.
Because cannabis is still relatively new to grow in some states legally, accurate water usage data is still hard to come by.
In an article by Daniel Gaddy, “The Cannabis Water Report” on watertechonline.com, because cannabis is not federally legal, there is still a lack of accurate industry water usage data for the crop.
In April 2020, the Resource Innovation Institute (RII), a nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency for cannabis growers, formed the Water Working Group (WWG).
WWG is made up of experts from various fields searching for a better understanding of cannabis water usage.
The group partnered with New Frontier Data and the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center and created the Cannabis Water Report.
According to the report, “Compared to major agricultural crops, including cotton, grapes, and corn, the total water used to grow cannabis has a nominal impact on total water use in farming.”
The report found water use on cannabis highly depends on growing location and techniques.
“A portion of our research was focused on understanding why cannabis had received such notoriety as a water-intensive crop,” said Christopher Dillis, a postdoctoral researcher at the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center.
He continued, “We need to educate people about what is happening now in the legal industry and separate that from the old narrative around the illicit industry. The report reveals that water use practices are highly diverse in the new regulated cannabis industry, and we hope that this new data leads to well-tailored regulatory policies that are responsive to this diversity.”
The report argues that the accusation of the cannabis industry contaminating water sources, being a water-intensive crop, and others can be addressed by placing specific regulations on the legalized industry. In contrast, no regulations can be placed on illegal grows.
You can read Gaddy’s full article on watertechonline.com
Download the full water report by visiting info.newfrontierdata.com/cannabis-h2o
Overall, Shelburne feels, “The negative stigma attached to it [cannabis] is unwarranted. I don’t think these people have done significant research. I don’t want to say that they’re not good people. I just think they bought into what the Federal Government has been telling them for 80 years.”
He continued, “It’s [cannabis] changed, and I think people don’t understand CBD and THC and how they affect the system, and it’s just one of those things where I think there is a lack of education.”
Cannabis is going to be an ongoing and controversial topic within our County. As we continue this in-depth series, we will look to bring more information, different perspectives, and outlooks from both sides of the subject. And as always, with an unbiased outlook.
If you would like to share your insight into the subject, email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, to read Part One of this special, visit pasoroblespress.com/special-sections/agriculture/the-great-cannabis-debate-part-one.