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Simi Valley Acorn News

Cannabis cultivation measure headed to November ballot



The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a measure to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot that would allow companies to grow, process, distribute and sell cannabis within unincorporated areas of the county.

The sale of cannabis, though, would only be wholesale between the grower and the buyer and doesn’t include retail shops.

The July 28 vote passed 4-1 with Supervisor Bob Huber casting the dissenting vote.

Supervisors, however, did ask county staff to return to the board by its Sept. 1 meeting with a report that will shed additional light on how the measure would impact the county fiscally, namely what it would do to property values, as well as how it would affect land use. The report will also seek comments from Sheriff Bill Ayub and Agricultural Commissioner Ed Williams.

Huber said he respects the wish of the people, but he wanted a more thorough analysis of impacts on county government, agriculture, public safety, property values and residents before the measure goes on the ballot.

“That would give voters more information so they can make more informed decisions,” Huber said.

The deadline to place the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot is Aug. 7.

Supervisor Linda Parks said the report requested by the board Tuesday will help officials understand how cannabis growth would impact government resources and abutting residential neighborhoods, and allow the county to share that information with the public before they vote.

“Our choices were limited. There was not time to do the study and get it back prior to approving it for the ballot,” Parks told the Acorn.

The ballot measure has been in the works for about a year and a half and has undergone revisions following hearings with the board and public comment sessions with residents to discuss the proposed law, according to Jared Ficker, a partner with Axiom Advisors, a Sacramento-based political consulting firm.

A petition for the measure, organized by the Ventura County Citizens for Responsible Cannabis Cultivation, garnered roughly 50,000 signatures to reach the Board of Supervisors.

Casey Houweling, the former owner of Camarillo-based Houweling’s Tomatoes, is the owner of Glass Investments Projects, the measure’s lead financial backer. The Malibu-based company is known for its greenhouse technology patents and as a consulting firm that has helped build greenhouses in the U.S. and worldwide.

Unlike industrial hemp, which was grown on farms in the county last year and frustrated residents with its pungent smell, the measure mandates that cannabis—grown for recreational and medical use—cannot be grown in an open field and must instead be grown in a greenhouse or a warehouse. Ficker said the pungent smell of hemp last year was a leading reason for the requirement.

More than helping to mitigate the smell of the cannabis, it could also provide a new client base for Houweling, whose pressurized greenhouses, which, according to him, “gives you a lot more control than a passive greenhouse,” would likely be used by cannabis growers in the county should the measure pass.

Ficker said cannabis can only be grown in pre-existing greenhouses or warehouses.

Though Houweling recently sold his tomato farm, it’s a possibility that some or all of the 125-acre facility would be converted to grow cannabis.

“That decision is for the owners,” Houweling said.

As for the measure, it further restricts growing cannabis to industrial zoning districts and mandates that all cannabis facilities would have to be 1,200 feet—or four football fields— from schools, daycare centers, drug rehab centers, parks and residential neighborhoods.

What’s more, the measure requires a tax on cannabis grown and sold within the unincorporated areas of the county. It would levy a 4% tax on the gross receipts on general cannabis cultivation and a 1% tax of gross receipts on cannabis nursery cultivation, according to the summary.

The number of cannabis facilities that would open in the county is unknown, which makes calculating the total possible income of the crop difficult to gauge.

Ficker said, however, that commercial facilities—used to grow cannabis—would be capped at 500 acres, while commercial cannabis nurseries— used to grow seeds and small plants—would be limited to 100 acres.

Ficker said at half capacity, the county could get between $5 to $10 million in taxes. But market forces would dictate how much cannabis is grown if voters pass the measure.

There would be further mandates on licensing of cannabis facilities.

“Applications would be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, and must be granted if specified conditions are met and the total acreage amounts described above would not be exceeded,” according to the ballot summary. “Licenses would have to be renewed annually.”

Sylvie Belmond contributed to this story

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