Santa Maria is a region in California, remote, and situated near the Southern coast of Santa Barbara County. It is an expanse of mountainous landscape with a view that is beautiful and far-reaching. What makes the city more scenic is the fair weather it has year-round. Santa Maria is home to many people who enjoy country life and nature. “It is approximately 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Downtown Los Angeles. Its estimated 2016 population was 106,290, making it the most populous city in the county and the Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA Metro Area.”—Wikipedia.
Life in Santa Maria
An area like Tepusquet Canyon is located Southeast of Santa Maria. It is also the present home of 20 marijuana farmers and 7 manufacturers who have made their intentions known, to continue or enter into the cannabis industry. But currently, residents and farmers are in constant conflict. Residents are fighting to preserve “what’s theirs”—their way of life.
Residents expressed concerns about resources like water becoming inadequate, increased traffic, and odor. The legalization of recreational marijuana in California gives cultivators and producers of cannabis the “freedom” to grow, process and sell their products in a weed dispensary. Both parties have written petitions to county officials and have met through public meetings. Residents want to stop the expansion of weed cultivation while the growers want to do business without encountering any restraints.
An area like Tepusquet is a massive spread of hundreds of acres. Growers believe they can farm anywhere in the canyon without constituting a problem for locals. Cultivators and residents live together but conflicts do occur frequently. The cultivators of cannabis are attracted to the place for the same reasons residents are. Helios Dayspring, president of the House of Holistics Corp., a marijuana delivery service in Santa Maria, said the Tepusquet canyon gives him a sense of identity. “It is the mountains; it is the beauty—that is California!”
Residents of the counties in Santa Barbara, especially Tepusquet love the seclusion. They have a committee (The Tepusquet Crisis Committee) which only brings them together to deliberate on how to sensitize residents of the area on how to curtail wildfires in the region. When the committee was formed a few years back, it only had a few members. The proliferation of weed cultivation and how it concerns residents has however, caused more people to join the committee. Currently, they have taken up a new mission, which is to stop marijuana cultivation in their canyon.
The resident-grower conflict
One major concern of Tepusquet settlers is water. Water is relatively scarce in the region. Fears are being expressed that an increase in cannabis cultivation will drastically shorten their water supply.
“We aren’t against the cannabis growers. Tepusquet is just not the right place for it. Some residents’ wells failed during the drought,” Renee O’Neill, a member of the Tepusquet Crisis Committee said.
The residents’ concern about water is directly connected with their fears about wildfires. In 2009, the La Brea fire which burned almost 90,000 acres of land, and which affected some parts of the Tepusquet Canyon, was alleged to have started from a spark in a propane stove at an illegal marijuana farm.
Another major concern for Tepusquet Canyon residents is traffic. They expressed worries about their narrow, undivided roads. Big weed delivery trucks plying the routes could cause hazards on the steep, twisted, unpaved roadways of Tepusquet Canyon. There is traffic on these roads all day and more large trucks using the same roads frequently expose them to more dangers.
As marijuana plants grow, they emit a strong odor. Some described the smell as “nice and refreshing” but many residents talk about the scent disapprovingly. Tepusquet canyon and neighboring communities want county authorities to make regulations on odor control. Legalization of marijuana in California has caused conservatories in the state to evolve from growing flowers to cultivating marijuana. And in the last couple of years, the odor of cannabis has intensified.
Resolving the issues
Tepusquet canyon and most other neighboring areas in Santa Maria are not commissioned. Government considers most of the land “not usable”. But when cannabis cultivators look at Tepusquet Canyon, they see differently. They think it is a perfect place for the marijuana industry to blossom. It has a microclimate that favors plant growth and the land is incredibly cheap. It will be wonderful for residents and cultivators to coexist, and there are a few suggestions on how a long-term relationship can be established between the two groups.
If county officials grant permission for new marijuana businesses to start operations, policies should be put in place regarding water sources. County officials should verify where the water is sourced from; if the water would be adequate for the long-term goals of the business; and if other users of the same water source would be affected. Many existing businesses already have provision for water, and many of them recycle the water not used by their cannabis plants to reduce the impact of water scarcity.
If cultivators “…are relying on water diverted from a stream or creek or sinking a new well, the state is going to want to see that has been done in accordance to all the state water regulations…We have a local policy that says we cannot approve a permit unless you have a viable water source,” said Dan Klemann, deputy director for the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department in an interview with Santa Maria Times.
There are several ways in dealing with the odors associated with marijuana farming. Indoor operations and greenhouses are savvy with filtration systems. Alternatively, they could seal their operating places to prevent the emission of odors. In larger systems, odors are reduced by releasing a chemical that traps odor-causing molecules, into the air.
In addition to solving the resident-grower conflict on marijuana cultivation in Santa Maria, county officials could set restrictions to areas where cannabis is grown, and increase setback areas around marijuana farms. The issue of security as concerns the development of marijuana businesses in Santa Maria seems vague. With necessary precautionary measures put in place, a major crisis associated with lack of security is hard to envisage. As in the case of San Luis Obispo County, a distance of 1,000 feet from schools and commercial locations could be stipulated for cannabis cultivators. In that way, safety of students and residents of the county could be maintained.