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Op-Ed: A Neighbor's Plea for Proper Pot Enforcement Funding in Santa Barbara County

(Editor's note: In recent days, Newsmakers has received copies of a multitude of communications from community members impacted by cannabis cultivation to the Board of Supervisors, urging adequate budget funding for a compliance team to enforce the county's pot ordinance. This letter, from a Tepusquet Canyon resident, is representative of the views expressed).

Dear Supervisors,

In 2019, when the cannabis tax was approved by voters, you promised to "use the majority of cannabis revenue to fund departments and agencies that oversee regulating and enforcing the cannabis industry." I am writing to request that you fulfill your promise by providing the necessary funding to adequately staff the Cannabis Compliance Team.

For the past three years, an underfunded and understaffed Cannabis Team has had the prime directive of enforcement for the cannabis industry in SBC. It is comprised of:

  • 1 Lead Detective

  • 5 Deputy Detectives

  • 1 Administrative Staff (civilian)

In addition to enforcement on all the growers, throughout the entire County of Santa Barbara, this group also has recently been assigned the duties of overseeing licensing (without additional funding or staff), which had previously been assigned to the Planning and Development Department.

Furthermore, coming down the pipeline, there are multiple, huge cannabis projects that will put even more demands upon the team.

In April 2021, at the Board of Supervisors budget workshops, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Chief Deputy Bonner clearly stated, “The single, Cannabis Compliance Team that is presently available cannot simultaneously do both enforcement and licensing efficiently or effectively.”

It also was reported that there are at least 21 suspected, illegal growers and dozens of illegal delivery services operating in our county that the team was unable to investigate and/or carry out enforcement on.

Chief Deputy Bonner also stated that "of the 108 growers, 50 percent claimed no income or did not file at all," When a sufficiently funded and staffed Team is able to enforce the required tagging of plants, then they will have the data necessary to compute every growers’ income.

The tagging of plants provides the number of plants which, along with the going price of cannabis at time of sale, will provide the income that the grower should report.

By continuing to underfund the Team, Santa Barbara County will never receive the revenue that these growers actually owe because you will never know what they are actually producing -- unless that is the intention.

We strongly recommend that you provide the necessary funding for the Team to do the job you have asked them to do, which will ensure that growers are paying their full, fair share and therefore, provide the necessary funding to reimburse the county.

For the last three years, both law enforcement and communities throughout our county have asked you to fully fund our essential Cannabis Compliance Team and you have refused. If you refuse to adequately fund them for a fourth year in a row, then “We the People” demand to know WHY.

Let us recall that he County of Santa Barbara’s Mission Statement declares: “Provide quality public services to the people of Santa Barbara County in response to their need for a healthy, safe, and prosperous environment.”

Respectfully Submitted,

Renée O'Neill

A resident of Tepusquet Canyon since 1994, Renée O'Neill is a founding member of the Tepusquet Canyon Crisis Committee. The views expressed are the writer's own.

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