One of the prevailing public concerns in the world’s largest cannabis market, California, which ushered in its regulated adult-use market Jan. 1, 2018, is odor. It’s known ominously as “the stink,” as some residents call it, according to a December 2018 New York Times feature on the issue.
The state has left the debate to its county and municipal governments, which are the gatekeepers of the licensed cannabis business. You can’t secure a state permit without first gaining the approval of local regulators in, say, Santa Barbara County, and the matter of odor control is being foisted to the front of the public debate over who earns a spot in the marketplace and who doesn’t.
Graham Farrar, founder of Glass House Farms, says that he and his team worked closely with Santa Barbara County to craft an odor control ordinance that all licensed businesses must follow. The public was involved, too.
“There was quite a bit of community involvement,” Farrar says. “Odor’s a tough one, right? It's challenging. Santa Barbara [County] is unique in that there's a 10-acre greenhouse and then a fence, and then somebody's backyard. In a number of places, the residential and the greenhouse [business] butts up right next to each other. And so, one of the points with the community that had to be worked through, and probably the highest [level of] friction, was the odor from the cultivation. Most of the stuff here is a continual harvest. So, it's not like it just happens once or twice a year; it’s always plants being harvested, and some of the neighbors were not fans of the smell. Odor control is something that we lobbied along with the community to have as a requirement for the ordinance.”
One element that has helped to shape the region’s cannabis industry: “You can't grow outdoors within two miles of the urban-rural boundary,” Farrar says, “so there's not any outdoor cultivation in our neck of the woods because they're worried that you wouldn't be able to mitigate the odor.”
The county set up a hotline for residents to report any suspected violations.
Farrar’s 150,000-square-foot greenhouse resides in an unincorporated area of the county. Nearby, the city of Carpinteria is considering lifting its moratorium on adult-use cannabis businesses. But the coastal Carpinteria Valley, some 85 miles northwest of Los Angeles, boasts more than 250 cannabis cultivation licenses. In fact, Santa Barbara County has more cultivation licenses than any other location in California (2,221 to runner-up Humboldt County’s 1,525, according to Cannabiz Media).
That means a lot of growing pains for local residents getting accustomed to cannabis growing in the greenhouses lining the valley, rather than daisies.
Farrar says the odor control ordinance work transpired over the last two years, with supervisors approving legislation in early 2018.
“I think Santa Barbara [County] has done a good job, a balanced job,” Farrar says. “They did it quickly, at least … to keep up with the state. The county was kind of trying to hit all these deadlines the state was throwing at them. They had an industry that was going under the medical model a bit beforehand, which is a little bit different of a scenario than a lot of places had, because [commercial business] was already going on; it wasn't like, ‘Should we allow this or not?’”
The county ordinance includes guidance on odor mitigation technology. Glass House Farms uses a vapor-phase system. Local health and safety officials must sign off on all odor control systems employed by Santa Barbara County growers. The key to the ordinance, Farrar says, is cooperation across the local industry: “The other point that I made to people is: [Let’s say] we’ve got 20 growers, and 19 of them have odor control and one doesn't. It's still going to have some smell, right? You’ve really got to get everybody in, and that’s what this ordinance is going to do, which is why I'm excited to see it being implemented."