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San Mateo approves cannabis farming for Half Moon Bay coast

December 14, 2017
Valerie Schmalz
Catholic San Francisco

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 5-to-0 to allow commercial marijuana farming in greenhouses and nurseries in the areas zoned agricultural, located almost entirely in the Half Moon Bay region along the Pacific Ocean.

“The pot growers see this allowing greenhouse cultivation of pot in primarily coastal San Mateo as the first step in making San Mateo a large production, manufacturing and distribution center for this drug,” said Our Lady of the Pillar parishioner Anne Martin, who fears the coastside will soon become “the Napa Valley of pot.” Restrictions against retail, processing, storage and outdoor cultivation expire December 2018, unless extended by the San Mateo County supervisors who have jurisdiction over the unincorporated areas of the county, Martin said.

“It’s not a good message we are sending to our youth or children,” said Yolanda Novelo, a San Mateo County mental health social worker, who said that many farmworkers from Mexico, El Salvador and other parts of South America oppose marijuana farms. “Most of these families are being traumatized from drug violence in Mexico or other parts of South America. And, you know, I am just concerned that’s where we are going to end up.”

Already the few opportunities in the Half Moon Bay area for youth recreation are a factor in youth drug use, said Novelo, who said she has three children, the youngest 14.

With the state law legalizing recreational cannabis to take effect Jan. 1, local governments are grappling with whether to enact legislation or impose bans. California voters approved the initiative in the November 2016 election.

Most of San Mateo’s cities and towns have instituted permanent or temporary bans on recreational cannabis dispensaries, as well as on production and manufacturing. An exception is Pacifica where the city approved a marijuana tax in the November election, and set a cap of six recreational use dispensaries and will allow cannabis manufacturing in the commercial district.

In San Francisco, the city government has embraced recreational cannabis. Mayor Ed Lee signed legislation Dec. 6 regulating recreational cannabis in the city that narrows the buffer zone protecting K-12 schools from 1,000 to 600 feet. The new law allows 46 existing medical cannabis dispensaries, and any in the regulatory pipeline, to convert to adult use. The new law also establishes parameters for new dispensaries. Dec. 5, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected a Sunset District neighborhood appeal of a cannabis dispensary on Irving Street, despite strong opposition from neighbors, including testimony from St. Anne of the Sunset pastor Father Dan Nascimento.

In San Mateo County, growers see the cash potential of cannabis, said Martin and fellow Half Moon Bay resident, pediatrician Dr. Rosa Brody. The law as approved Dec. 6, and set for final approval this week, would bar farms from displacing other crops with cannabis, create setbacks from homes and schools and include other restrictions but Martin said it will all be up for review in December 2018.

“Growers are looking at it as a business. They are saying this is great for farm workers. They are going to get an increase in pay because cannabis pays better than vegetables,” Brody said. Most ranchers do not pay health benefits and cannabis farmers say they plan to offer benefits, said Novelo.

“A lot of these families are very, very against any type of drugs,” said pediatrician Brody. “They have families, they have kids. Some of them live in the housing at the farms,” Brody said. They have told her, Brody said: “We thought we were getting away from it. We thought we left Mexico, getting away from the drug cartels, and now here we are.”

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