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San Luis Obispo County, California

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Cannabis Regulations

The following regulations apply only to the unincorporated areas of the County. If you reside within the boundaries of a City, please contact the City office for their regulations regarding cannabis.

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Status Update

Public Review Drafts

Upcoming Hearings

Public Input

Past Public Hearings

Current County Regulations

PermitView Parcel Lookup

Frequently Asked Questions

State and Federal Laws Regarding Cannabis

Status Update

Last Updated: June 6, 2017


Board of Supervisors Meeting June 20th (Public Review Draft #3)

For jurisdictions across California, crafting legislation on a topic as dynamic as cannabis is a significant challenge. This is no different for the County of San Luis Obispo. We want to ensure that the Planning Commission receives a draft that is clearly in line with the Board’s broader direction. For this reason, the ordinance’s next draft will be brought to the Board of Supervisors on June 20th, as opposed to issuing another public input draft on June 5th.

The agenda for the June 20th meeting can be viewed here. The staff report packet and attachments can be viewed here. The public is encourage to participate and comment at the meeting on June 20th.

After receiving additional input from the Board, a public hearing draft will then be presented to the Planning Commission at a hearing later this summer. Staff anticipates the public hearing draft will be available approximately 10-14 days prior to the Planning Commission’s hearing. Additionally, the Board will be asked to extend the urgency ordinance on or before September 19, 2017. The Board will then review the Planning Commission's recommendations and consider changes at a public hearing to be scheduled in the fall.

What happens if I can’t attend the June 20 Board meeting, but still want to provide public comment? The public can always send correspondence to their elected representatives through the postal service or via email. Contact information can be found on the County’s website at www.slocounty.ca.gov.


Public Hearing Draft

The Planning Commission is expected to begin public hearings on July 27, 2017.  The Public Review Draft may be revised before going to the Planning Commission in the form of a Public Hearing Draft. The Public Hearing Draft will be available approximately 10-14 days prior to the first Planning Commission hearing date.  Any modifications to the Public Hearing Draft made by the Planning Commission will then be considered by the Board of Supervisors.  

It’s important to keep in mind that nothing is final until the Board adopts the permanent ordinances. The draft ordinances are subject to change throughout the public review and hearing process. 

See Upcoming Hearings, below, for further information.  

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Public Review Drafts

Public Review Draft #3

For jurisdictions across California, crafting legislation on a topic as dynamic as cannabis is a significant challenge. This is no different for the County of San Luis Obispo. We want to ensure that the Planning Commission receives a draft that is clearly in line with the Board’s broader direction. For this reason, the ordinance’s next draft will be brought to the Board of Supervisors on June 20th, as opposed to issuing another public input draft on June 5th.

The agenda for the June 20th meeting can be viewed here. The staff report packet and attachments can be viewed here. The public is encourage to participate and comment at the meeting on June 20th.


Public Review Draft #2 (Released May 1, 2017)

Public Review Draft #2 of the ordinance applying to inland areas can be viewed here.

The Coastal Zone version of Public Review Draft #2 can be viewed here.

The above drafts constitute Public Review Draft #2. Comments on the revised Public Review Drafts were due by May 12, 2017. 


Summary of Changes between Public Review Draft #1 and Public Review Draft #2

The Public Review Draft of proposed cannabis land use regulations was revised and released on May 1, 2017. The draft ordinance addresses cultivation, transportation, manufacturing, transportation and distribution, testing, and sales of medical and non-medical cannabis in the unincorporated County jurisdiction. Substantial changes have been made from the original Public Review Draft, including the following:

  • A draft of proposed regulations for the Coastal Zone are available.
  • Exemptions. Exemptions for personal cultivation have been revised and new exemptions proposed for producing cannabis edible products in home.
  • Application Requirements. Permit applications will be accepted in phases, with registered cultivation sites the first to be eligible for a permit.
  • Cannabis Cultivation. 
    • The 100 permit limitation has been removed. 
    • Cultivation to be accessory to a residential use. 
    • Prohibits cultivation on areas undisturbed as of August 23, 2016. 
    • Revised canopy size limits based on the type of cultivation and size of parcel. 
    • Revised setbacks from property line depending on cultivation type. 
    • Requires outdoor cultivation sites to be separated from other permitted cultivation sites. 
    • Establishes additional requirements for the Nipomo Mesa area. 
    • Revised setback from sensitive uses (e.g. schools). 
    • Establishes setbacks from offsite residences, creeks. 
    • Requires water offsets in over drafted basins, and requires renewable energy for artificial and mixed light cultivation. 
    • Establishes mandatory participation in a County monitoring program. 
    • Revised permit levels.
    • Prohibition in the entirety of the Carrizo Planning Area.
  • Cannabis Nurseries. Established as separate use from cultivation. Establishes additional requirements for the Nipomo Mesa area. Revised setback from sensitive uses.
  • Cannabis Manufacturing. Removes the prohibition on volatile manufacturing.
  • Cannabis Dispensaries. Allows for establishment of dispensaries both inland and in the coastal zone. Eliminates the medical-only provision. Revised setback from sensitive uses. Allows for mobile deliveries. Prohibits mobile dispensaries.
  • Modifications. Establishes a process to request modifications to certain setback standards.
  • Adds Sections 5-33. Amends certain planning area standards to allow or prohibit certain cannabis activities.

Summary of the Public Review Draft #1 (Released February 28, 2017)

On February 28, 2017, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors reviewed an early public review draft of permanent cannabis land use regulations (ordinance). The Board of Supervisors provided feedback and direction to staff, and requested staff conduct public outreach to review the draft ordinance and receive feedback from the public. The original draft ordinance established regulations for cultivation, transportation, manufacturing, transportation and distribution, testing, and sales of medical and non-medical cannabis in the unincorporated County jurisdiction. Staff conducted three public outreach meetings across the County in early April, in addition to two "focus group" meetings with other government agencies and industry professionals. A summary of the feedback from public outreach will be posted shortly.

A copy of the original draft ordinance can be found here.

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Upcoming Hearings

Tentative dates are reserved to discuss and adopt the permanent cannabis land use regulations. These dates are tentative until they are noticed and the agenda is published online. Staff reports are typically available 10-14 days prior to hearing date for Planning Commission hearings, and one week prior to Board of Supervisor Hearings.

  • Planning Commission Hearings.  The Planning Commission will meet and thoroughly discuss the proposed draft regulations, their compatibility with surrounding land use categories, and their impacts on the environment. The Planning Commission may request changes be made to the draft regulations. Ultimately, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding the final draft ordinances.
    • July 27, 2017
    • August 10, 2017
  • Board of Supervisors Hearings - The Board of Supervisors will meet and take action on regulations. The Board will review the recommendation from staff and the Planning Commission, and may request changes be made to the draft regulations. 
    • October 3, 2017
  • Other Hearings. These hearings are related to cannabis but not directly related to the permanent land use regulations.
    • July 25 - Board of Supervisors - discussion regarding taxation and fees.
    • On or before September 19 - Board of Supervisors - extend urgency ordinance as needed

The Inland ordinance will not become effective until 30 days after the Board of Supervisors adopts the ordinance.  Staff anticipates the Inland ordinance will not be effective until November. No land use applications will be accepted until the ordinance is effective.

The Coastal Zone ordinance will not be effective until the California Coastal Commission certifies it. After the Board of Supervisors adopts an ordinance, the proposed language is sent to the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission can add to, delete, or revise any part of the ordinance adopted by the Board. No land use applications will be accepted until the ordinance is effective. The Coastal Commission process can range from a couple of months to over a year. 

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Public Input

No additional public outreach meetings will be held prior to the Planning Commission hearings on the revised ordinance. The public may submit comments in writing to Brandi Cummings (bcummings@co.slo.ca.us) or may be mailed to the address below:

County of San Luis Obispo Planning & Building Department  
ATTN: Brandi Cummings  
976 Osos Street, Room 300  
San Luis Obispo, CA 93408

The County held three public outreach meetings to discuss the original draft cannabis ordinance. These public outreach meetings were held to describe the proposed ordinance and to discuss options, alternatives, and revisions to the draft ordinance.

The PowerPoint from the Public Meetings can be viewed here.

  • April 5, 2017 - Paso Robles - Department of Social Services - 6:30PM to 8:30PM
  • April 6, 2017 - San Luis Obispo - Board of Supervisors Chambers - 6:30PM to 8:30PM
  • April 12, 2017 - Nipomo - Community Services District Office - 6:30PM to 8:30PM

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Past Public Hearings Regarding Cannabis

The Board of Supervisors discussed and gave direction on the issue of cannabis at the following meetings. Staff reports, meeting minutes, and video recordings of each meeting are located here: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/planning/meetings.htm?.

  • December 15, 2015
  • February 9, 2016
  • March 22, 2016
  • July 26, 2016 (this meeting has specific direction from the Board regarding the permanent ordinance)
  • August 23, 2016
  • September 20, 2016 (Urgency Ordinance adoption)
  • October 11, 2016 
  • October 25, 2016 (Urgency Ordinance extension)
  • February 28, 2017 (draft regulations released)

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Current County Regulations

The following regulations apply only to the unincorporated areas of the County. If you reside within the boundaries of a City, please contact that city for their regulations regarding cannabis.

On Sept. 20, 2016, the County of San Luis Obispo established a moratorium on the cultivation of cannabis (marijuana) in all unincorporated areas of the county, with certain exceptions. The ordinance, approved by a four-fifths vote, includes four primary points:

No new cultivation sites can be started, with the following exception:

  • New patient (6 plants, 100 sq. ft. max) and primary caregiver (30 plants, 500 sq. ft. max) cultivation sites can be started, as an accessory use (i.e. cannot start on vacant parcels). All new cultivation sites must register with the County.

Please read our registration handout for more information regarding cannabis registration under the urgency ordinance.

  • All existing cultivators (as of August 23, 2016) may continue growing for the duration of the urgency ordinance, provided that they registered with Planning and Building, by November 18, 2016.
  • Urgency ordinance does not create any vested right for cultivators. All registrations will expire when the Urgency Ordinance expires, or when a permanent ordinance is adopted, whichever is sooner. All cultivators will have to apply for, and be granted, a land use permit under the permanent ordinance in order to cultivate.
  • The Urgency Ordinance is in place until September 19, 2017, and can be extended 1 additional year (total of 2 years from original adoption).

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PermitView Parcel Lookup

To look up your parcel to determine your land use category, please use the PermitView parcel viewer.

For help on how to utilize PermitView, please view the following two videos:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the current County regulations regarding cannabis?

Cannabis cultivation is currently prohibited in the County. On Sept. 20, 2016, the County of San Luis Obispo established a moratorium on the cultivation of cannabis (marijuana) in all unincorporated areas of the county, with certain exceptions. Existing growers were allowed to continue growing for the duration of the Urgency Ordinance, provided they registered with the County by November 18, 2016. New grows are limited to 6 plants per person or up to 30 plants for caregivers.

Cannabis manufacturing and processing are currently prohibited in the County under the County’s permissive zoning ordinance.

Cannabis dispensaries are currently provisionally permitted in the inland portions of the County only. The County’s existing Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance allows for dispensaries to be established and operate for medical cannabis sales only. A Minor Use Permit must be obtained prior to establishing or operating a dispensary. Dispensaries for recreational use are currently prohibited. Mobile dispensaries operating within the County are subject to the Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance and are required to obtain a Minor Use Permit. Mobile dispensaries operating from another jurisdiction are allowed to deliver within the County.

What if I missed the registration deadline?

All existing non-conforming grows were required to register by November 18, 2016. New grows may still register provided that meet all the requirements under Section 5B (indoor) and Section 5C (outdoor) exemptions of the Urgency Ordinance. These new grows are limited to 6 plants and 100 sq. ft. for personal grows, or 30 plants and 500 sq. ft. for caregiver grows.

Please read our registration handout for more information regarding cannabis registration under the urgency ordinance.

I was unsuccessful during the registration process and my registration was denied. Can I appeal that decision?

No. There is no appeal process for those who missed the registration deadline or who did not meet the requirements necessary to successfully register their grows. Cultivators in either of these situations will have to wait until the urgency ordinance is no longer in place and new processes are implemented under a permanent ordinance or register under one of the Section 5B (indoor) and Section 5C (outdoor) exemptions of the Urgency Ordinance. These new grows are limited to 6 plants and 100 sq. ft. for personal grows, or 30 plants and 500 sq. ft. for caregiver grows.

Please read our registration handout for more information regarding cannabis registration under the urgency ordinance.

I live in a residentially zoned area. Will I be able to continue commercially cultivating cannabis under the permanent ordinance?

Probably not. Based on the current Board direction, commercial cannabis cultivation will likely not be allowed in most residential zones.

What does the passing of Prop. 64 mean?

Personal recreational use. Adults 21 years or above will be able to use recreational cannabis within a private residence and grow cannabis (up to 6 plants) for personal use immediately. Cannabis use is still prohibited in public and areas where smoking tobaccos is prohibited.

Commercial recreational cannabis cultivation, manufacturing or sales operations: Commercial cannabis activities require a license from the State Bureau of Cannabis Control, which is planning to accept applications beginning January 1, 2018. A license from the State is required before any commercial recreational cultivation, manufacturing, or sales are allowed.

Will a permit or license be required to grow, sell, or process cannabis?

Yes. The County is in the process of drafting the permanent ordinance, which will require a permit for all cultivation, processing, and sales. State licenses are also required for all cannabis activities, both medical and recreational. In addition, some activities may require a Business License, pesticide permit, Health Department clearance, or clearance from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Do mobile dispensaries need a permit or license?

Yes. The County’s existing Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance allows for dispensaries to be established and operate for medical cannabis sales only. A Minor Use Permit must be obtained prior to establishing or operating a dispensary. Dispensaries for recreational use are currently prohibited. Mobile delivery services operating within the County are subject to the Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance and are required to obtain a Minor Use Permit. Mobile delivery services operating from another jurisdiction are allowed to deliver within the County. Mobile delivery services will require a state license. In addition, a Business License may be required.

Do I need a state license to grow cannabis for personal use?

No. However, until a permanent County ordinance is adopted, all personal cultivation is required to registered with the Planning & Building Department.

Under MCRSA qualified patients are exempt from the state license program if cultivating less than 100 square feet for personal medical use. Primary caregivers with five or fewer patients are allowed up to 500 square feet (up to 30 plants). An exemption under MCRSA does not prevent a local government from further restricting or banning the cultivation, provision, etc. of medical cannabis by individual patients or caregivers in accordance with its constitutional police powers under Section 7, Article XI of the CA Constitution.

AUMA (Prop. 64) allows individuals to grow cannabis for personal non-medical use (up to six plants per residence) without a state license. Only six plants are allowed to be grown per residence. All plants and harvested cannabis in excess of one (1) ounce must be kept within the person’s private residence, in a locked space, that is not visible from a public place.

Can I sell homegrown cannabis plants or products to others?

No. Proposition 64 does not allow the sale of homegrown cannabis, whether whole plant, clippings, clones, or any product derived from any part of the plant.

Can I smoke or consume cannabis in public places?

No. AUMA (Prop. 64) prohibits smoking or consumption of medical and recreational cannabis in public places or in places where smoking tobacco is prohibited, which includes but is not limited to hallways and lobbies of apartment buildings and hotels, on the street, in schools, amusement parks, public parks and places of business usually open to the general public. Additionally, consumption or smoking of cannabis is prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school or youth area while children present, except on private residential property provided smoking is not detectable by children.

Where can I buy cannabis in SLO County?

Currently, there are no permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of the County. The County’s existing Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance allows for dispensaries to be established and operate for medical cannabis sales only. A Minor Use Permit must be obtained prior to establishing or operating a dispensary. Dispensaries for recreational use are currently prohibited. Mobile delivery services operating within the County are subject to the Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance and are required to obtain a Minor Use Permit. Mobile delivery services operating from another jurisdiction are allowed to deliver within the County.

In addition, a Business License may be required.

How much cannabis can I buy for recreation use?

When retail sales have been approved, under Proposition 64, adults 21 years and older can possess, transport, or purchase up to one (1) ounce of cannabis and up to eight (8) grams of cannabis concentrates. The state does not anticipate accepting applications for recreational licenses until January 2018.

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State and Federal Laws Regarding Cannabis

Federal Law

Controlled Substances Act

The federal Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 801, et.) prohibits, except for certain research purposes, the possession, distribution, and manufacturing of cannabis, and there is no medical necessity exception to prosecution and conviction under the Controlled Substances Act.

California State Law

California statutes specify that, except as authorized by law, the possession, cultivation, possession for sale, transportation, administration, or furnishing of cannabis are state criminal violations.  State law further punishes one who maintains a place for the purpose of unlawfully selling, using or furnishing, or who knowingly makes available a place for storing, manufacturing, or distributing cannabis

Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Prop. 215)

On November 5, 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Health & Safety Code § 11362.5, “CUA”), an initiative that exempted certain patients and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under state law for the possession and cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes. One of the stated purposes of the CUA is to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use cannabis for medical purposes where that medical use has been recommended by a physician.

Link to Prop. 215

Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420)

On January 1, 2004, Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act (Health & Safety Code §§ 11362.7-11362.83, “MMP”), became law to clarify the scope of the CUA and to facilitate the prompt identification of qualified patients and their primary caregivers.

Link to SB 420

Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA)

On September 11, 2015, the State enacted the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (Business & Professions Code §§ 19300, et seq.; the “MMRSA”). SB 837 changed the names of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act to the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (the “MCRSA”) .The MCRSA creates a state licensing program for commercial medical cannabis activities. The MCRSA allows counties and cities to maintain local regulatory authority over medical cannabis. The state will not issue a state license without first receiving authorization by the applicable local jurisdiction.

Link to MCRSA

Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) (Prop. 64)

On November 8, 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, the California Cannabis Legalization Initiative, also known as the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult use of Marijuana Act (the “AUMA”) (Health & Safety Code § 13362, Business and Professions Code Division 10), an initiative that legalized recreational cannabis for persons aged 21 years or older under state law. The AUMA also establishes certain sales and cultivation taxes. The AUMA renamed the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, established under MCRSA, to the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Link to AUMA text

Link to Business and Professions Code Division 10

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