Santa Barbara County Initiates Study to Tackle Cannabis Odor Issues

Communities near cannabis cultivation operations often grapple with the issue of odor, and Santa Barbara is no exception. On April 23, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors met to discuss the problem and ultimately voted 3-2 to commission a study to explore further options.

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, carbon filters, known as “scrubbers,” could potentially mitigate cannabis odor, preventing it from spreading beyond cultivation facilities. However, each scrubber costs $22,000 and would be needed for every 10 acres of grow space. Additional costs for electrical upgrades further complicate the expense, making it a “potentially prohibitive” investment according to county planners.

Board Chair Steve Lavagnino and Supervisor Das Williams, who were instrumental in passing Santa Barbara County’s 2018 cannabis ordinance, argued that it wouldn’t be fair to mandate such expensive equipment for cultivators. Supervisor Joan Hartman agreed, and the trio voted to commission a six-month study instead.

Currently, only five out of 20 greenhouses in Carpinteria Valley, east of Santa Barbara, have installed scrubbers. The study will examine the necessary power upgrades for scrubber installations. Hartman expressed support for scrubbers in greenhouses but also wants a solution for sungrown operations. She emphasized the need to regulate cannabis odor for the most sensitive populations.

Opponents of the study, including Supervisors Bob Nelson and Laura Capps, wanted immediate action requiring all cannabis greenhouses to install scrubbers. Nelson expressed frustration over the delays and called for decisive action, while Capps questioned whether it was appropriate to dictate what businesses can afford.

Lavagnino highlighted the employment benefits of the cannabis industry, noting the importance of considering job impacts when discussing regulatory costs. The study will target three primary areas where cannabis odor is prevalent, using a device called a Nasal Ranger to measure odor strength.

Residents of Carpinteria Valley have filed 3,700 odor complaints, none of which have been verified by the county due to difficulties in pinpointing the source. Without verified complaints, the county cannot mandate scrubbers or other technologies. Nelson suggested requiring scrubbers when growers renew their licenses.

In 2018, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors allowed cannabis cultivation in unincorporated areas. Despite this, only one odor violation notice has been issued. Carpinteria Valley has 170 acres approved for cannabis cultivation, with 116 acres currently utilized.

An alternative odor control method using plant oils in misting systems has been partially effective but introduced a new “laundromat” odor that residents found unpleasant. At the meeting, cultivators argued against a one-size-fits-all solution, emphasizing ongoing efforts to reduce odor.

Pacific Dutch Group co-president Tadd McKenzie noted that growers are continually improving compliance and warned against costly regulatory updates that could benefit black-market competitors. Autumn Shelton from Autumn Brands stated that mandatory scrubbers would financially strain her business.

Supervisor Williams urged growers to continue working towards a resolution, warning that delays could lead to more burdensome regulations. Nelson echoed this sentiment, stressing the need for proactive measures to address the ongoing odor issue.


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