Cannabis is legal in San Luis Obispo County, so is its cultivation. The County Board of Supervisors adopted ordinances to regulate cannabis operations and create a legal framework for cannabis activities in the county's unincorporated areas following the legalization of cannabis in California. California was the first state in the United States to legalize medical marijuana when the state voters approved the Compassionate Use Act. Commonly referred to as Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act allows patients 18 years or older diagnosed with severe medical conditions to use medical cannabis. It also permits them to cultivate marijuana in limited numbers at home for personal use. Under this Act, minors who suffer from certain medical conditions can also use cannabis for medical purposes. Recreational cannabis is also legal in California. The state's voters approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, otherwise known as Proposition 64, to make marijuana legal for recreational use in the state. Following this approval, adults 21 years and over can possess, use, and cultivate cannabis at home.
California empowers each local government to regulate commercial cannabis operations in its jurisdiction. Consequently, a county or city authority in the state can choose to allow cannabis business activities or prohibit them. San Luis Obispo County adopted Title 22, Chapter 22.40 of the San Luis Obispo County Code to regulate commercial cannabis operations, including cultivation, within the county borders. It also permits cannabis cultivation for personal use and by primary caregivers. The county requires a land use permit for commercial cannabis cultivation. Permitted cultivators can only operate in the Industrial (IND), Agriculture (AG), Rural Lands (RL), and Residential Rural (RR) land use categories. Generally, San Luis Obispo County prohibits outdoor cannabis cultivation in the RR and IND land use categories. The county limits outdoor cultivation to AG and RL land use categories that meet 10 acres and 50 acres minimum site area by land, respectively. Under the San Luis Obispo County Code, cannabis cultivation operations may include secondary activities such as cannabis processing, nursery, and transport.
In San Luis Obispo County, a cannabis cultivation site must be situated outside 1,000 feet away from a youth center, school, playground, library, or drug or alcohol recovery facility. Any cannabis cultivation site operating on an unpaved road must have a dust control plan to mitigate air pollution. The cannabis on a plantation must not be visible to the public. Hence, the County Code recommends mounting a secure fence minimum of 6 feet high to enclose a cultivation site. The fence will also prevent unauthorized access to a cannabis cultivation area. All cannabis cultivation must comply with the requirements set by the state and county authorities.
All cannabis cultivation for personal use in San Luis Obispo County must be indoors and in private residences. Cannabis cultivation for personal use that does not exceed six cannabis plants and 100 square feet of total covering area is exempted from land use permit requirements. Persons who cultivate cannabis for personal use must not sell, distribute, or share it as a gift with any individual.
Cannabis manufacturing is legal in the IND, AG, and Commercial Services (CS) land use categories of San Luis Obispo County. However, a manufacturer must possess a land-use permit to operate legally. The county prohibits cannabis manufacturers from engaging in volatile processes or using flammable substances in their operations. According to the San Luis Obispo County Code, a non-volatile cannabis manufacturing establishment whose land size is less than 40,000 square feet requires a minor use permit approval. Those operating on lands 40,000 square feet or more require a conditional use permit approval.
Before establishing a cannabis manufacturing facility in San Luis Obispo County, the county requires a prospective manufacturer to have a certified industrial hygienist or a registered professional engineer. Such a person must certify that the proposed cannabis manufacturing facility complies with acceptable standards. While cannabis manufacturers can produce edible products, the county prohibits them from manufacturing them in the shape of insects, animals, fruit, or people.
A cannabis manufacturing facility must be situated more than 600 feet away from any recreation center, school, drug or alcohol recovery facility, library, or park. In San Luis Obispo County, the facility used for cannabis manufacturing must comply with applicable codes, standards, and regulations. These include compliance with the California building code, fire codes, the California energy code, California plumbing code, and building codes. Others are the California electric code, engineering codes and Cal-OSHA standards, the California mechanical code, and the California occupational health and safety regulations.
The establishment of cannabis dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County is legal. However, those with storefronts cannot be open to the public for cannabis retail sales. The county requires dispensaries to have a non-storefront retailer state license and obtain a minor use permit approval to operate legally. A dispensary without a physical structure (mobile retailers) is prohibited from selling cannabis in San Luis Obispo County. As such, they cannot obtain the requisite permit to operate legally. Permitted dispensaries must not operate before 8:00 a.m. and after 8:00 p.m. daily.
All San Luis Obispo County requires a cannabis dispensary to obtain cannabis and cannabis products from and sell only to permitted sources in California. They are prohibited from supplying cannabis or cannabis products to anyone or entity outside the state. Permitted cannabis dispensaries must implement measures to restrict easy access by minors. Cannabis dispensaries in the county must be at least 600 feet away from any school, youth center, park, library, or licensed drug or alcohol recovery facility.
In San Luis Obispo County, a permitted cannabis dispensary with a permanent structure can deliver cannabis and cannabis products to residential addresses. However, consumers must find out if cannabis delivery is legal in the intended delivery city within the county. If cannabis delivery is legal in the proposed delivery city, then legally-established dispensaries in the county can deliver cannabis to such a city. However, delivery personnel will check the buyer's valid identification before completing such an order. Medical patients with medical marijuana cards in that city can also order cannabis or cannabis products from permitted dispensaries in the county.
A medical marijuana card in San Luis Obispo County identifies the cardholder as eligible to possess specified amounts of medical cannabis, grow, and use them legally. Patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, migraine, glaucoma, chronic pain, seizures, and persistent muscle spasm can apply for a medical marijuana card in San Luis Obispo County. Qualified patients and their primary caregivers can apply for and get this card under the California Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMIC).
Any individual who wishes to obtain a medical marijuana card in San Luis Obispo County must provide the following when applying:
The cost of applying for a medical marijuana card in San Luis Obispo County is a non-refundable fee of $80, but CenCal or MediCal recipients pay $40. This fee is payable to the County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department by cash, cashier's checks, money orders, or credit cards.
Application for a medical marijuana card in the county is in person, but applicants must first schedule an appointment with the Public Health Department (DPH) by calling (805) 781-5514. An applicant must fill out a Medical Marijuana Program Application/Renewal Form and submit it with other required documentation at:
Department of Public Health
2191 Johnson Avenue
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
The DPH opens Mondays to Fridays between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. While at the DPH, the attending employee will take a picture to be used on the applicant's medical marijuana card and verify their documents and information. While it may take up to 35 days to receive a medical marijuana card, most applications for medical marijuana in San Luis Obispo County take about seven days. However, missing documents or information may extend the processing time beyond seven days. Usually, the DPH calls patients with successful applications to get their cards from the office.
Voters in San Luis Obispo County approved Measure B-18 in 2018 to subject cannabis businesses, except testing businesses, to a 6% tax on gross receipts. The revenues generated from cannabis businesses have impacted the county's economy in several ways.
The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) released a report on the total cannabis taxable sales in the state between 2018 and 2021. In 2018, the CDTFA reported that the cannabis taxable sales in San Luis Obispo County were $8.1m. By the end of 2020, the county had made $24.4m in total cannabis taxable sales and, in 2020, sold $47.8m worth of taxable marijuana. In the first three quarters of 2021, San Luis Obispo County made $42.7m in cannabis taxable sales and will likely end the year better than 2020.
Drug-related offense arrest rates in San Luis Obispo County have always been on the low side since 2017. Before then, the county recorded staggering numbers of drug-related arrests for many years. In 2016, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) reported 184 arrests for drug offenses. This figure came down to 158 in 2017 and then further down to 106 in 2018. There were 108 arrests made in 2019. While the number of arrests for drug offenses went up to 137 in the county in 2020, cannabis legalization does not appear to be responsible for it. That figure is still relatively low.
Also, cannabis legalization in San Luis Obispo County does not seem to impact DUI arrest rates in the county significantly. According to a 2020 annual report to the California Legislature by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the county had 1,687 DUI arrests in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, DUI arrest figures were 1,775, and 1,799 respectively. The DMW has yet to release reports for 2020 and 2021.