Noozhawk reports …….The first local marijuana retail stores likely won’t open until early 2019, as businesses and regulators work through the system of permitting and licensing, while Santa Barbara County is already home to dozens of growers.

The city of Santa Barbara in July chose three dispensary businesses from a pool of applicants, and those operators are getting building permits and expect to open up shop in early 2019, perhaps February or March, said Matt Fore, senior assistant to the city administrator, who has been working on the cannabis permitting process.

There are already medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city.

The county Board of Supervisors adopted a cap of eight storefront retail establishments, and no more than two per supervisorial district, and the application process will start around February, said Deputy County Executive Officer Dennis Bozanich.

All the county’s commercial cannabis permit applications so far have been for cultivation or nursery operations, with about 60 being processed.

In unincorporated areas, with a lot of agricultural-zoned land, it’s all about the grows.

“We’re going to definitely land on the side of being a producer of cultivated cannabis and manufacturing – we’re going to consume a lot less than we produce,” he told Noozhawk.

In October, the county had 832 active state temporary licenses — several hundred fewer than July — reported on 77 parcels and about 196 acres of land.

About 75 percent of cannabis operators in the county are outdoor cultivators, Bozanich said.

Two local permits have been issued, for an indoor Goleta nursery and an outdoor grow in Los Alamos, and the next step is for those owners to go through business licensing, he said.

From the county perspective, the sooner, the better to get permits issued, so mitigations like odor control and lighting can be required and enforced, he said.

The county expects a new batch of applications now that the coastal zone cannabis ordinance got certified by the Coastal Commission in early November.

Operators need a temporary state license to apply for a Santa Barbara County permit and business license, which they then need to apply for a state annual license, Bozanich said.

California has issued only two annual licenses, for the whole state, and extended its temporary license system through the first quarter of 2019.

“We’re basically at the end of the temporary permitting authority, and moving into where annual licenses, regular or provisional, come into play,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies are meanwhile ramping up raids on illegal marijuana grows, but in 10 raids — in which they destroyed about 417,700 plants — they made one arrest and no one faces criminal charges.

The District Attorney’s Office is reviewing two reports related to illegal cultivation, to determine whether to file charges, and expects to review at least two more reports in the near future, according to filing deputy Lee Carter.

Planning and Development staff at the county have opened enforcement cases and issued nine violation notices, mostly for operators not having valid state licenses, and for using lights.

The Board of Supervisors received an update on the marijuana program last week, and voted to authorize the Sheriff’s Department to access state and federal criminal background checks for cannabis business license applicants.

According to staff, some felony convictions are disqualifying, as are crimes related to controlled substances — with marijuana being an exception.

Another issue brought up at the recent meeting was the lack of testing laboratory applications for unincorporated areas (so far).

All cannabis products have to have samples tested and cleared before they go to the retail marketplace, and it’s a critical public health component of the new marijuana regulations, Bozanich said.

“It’s what will differentiate legal from illegal sales — a clean product, not a risky product that you might get from the trunk of someone’s car.”

(Delivery services will be allowed under many local ordinances, so it’s entirely possible people will buy marijuana out of someone’s car — but it should be tested and packaged first.)

The supervisors asked planning staff to look into whether an ordinance change could make it more likely for testers to find acceptable locations. They are only allowed in commercial and industrial zones, which are not as plentiful in unincorporated areas, according to staff.

The case for having testing facilities nearby is saving production operations time and money — and keeping those high-paying jobs and tax dollars local, Bozanich said.

Thirty operators paid a total of $1.8 million in county cannabis taxes for the most recent fiscal quarter and voters in three cities approved marijuana-operations tax rates in the Nov. 6 election.