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Wine Spectator: Cannabis And Wine Producers Face Off In Santa Barbara County

July 28, 2020

A battle over wine and cannabis in Santa Barbara County, pitting neighbor against neighbor, is coming to a head. On June 30, a report from a grand jury tasked with monitoring local government issued a scathing report criticizing the county board for its mismanagement of the county’s cannabis production.

“The jury believes the Board of Supervisors, in their hubris, failed the people of Santa Barbara County,” the report stated. “Now they must amend the cannabis ordinances to regain the people’s trust.”

Santa Barbara County adopted some of the most lenient regulations for commercial cannabis farming in California and has seen an explosion in production in the past four years—last year, the county was home to 35% of the state’s licensed cannabis acreage. As a result, locals, particularly vintners, have grappled with cannabis’ impact on the area.

In April, a nonprofit made up of more than 200 vintners, farmers, and homeowners, dubbed the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, filed suit against the county’s board of supervisors, citing what the coalition considers a lack of ordinances regulating cannabis production and a faulty licensing program which has allowed farmers to stack licenses and create some of the largest cannabis grows in the state. The suit aims to cut down on the number of unpermitted cannabis farms and stop the board from issuing further permits by challenging the environmental reviews that have led to permit approvals.

“Pursuing legal action is not fun, nor is it a place we wanted to go, but it’s necessary,” Debra Eagle, a board member for the coalition and general manager for Alma Rosa winery, told Wine Spectator. Eagle felt like the board of supervisors was ignoring its citizens.

According to Michael Benedict, co-founder of Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the board of supervisors has been playing fast and loose with land-use laws and issuing permits without proper planning. “Plan first and then issue permits,” he said. “The [cannabis] farmers are taking advantage of a loophole, but it’s not their fault; the board has enabled this.”

The grand jury finding is independent of the lawsuit, which has not gone to court yet. But it affirms the vintners’ claims, stating that the board must regain the people’s trust by enacting extensive modifications. Now the county supervisors are considering tighter regulations. Wine Spectator has the full story.—Aaron Romano

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