NOT-SO-SWEET SMELL OF SUC­CESS

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY THOMAS FULLER

Odors as­so­ci­ated with flow­er­ing cannabis plants be­come a source of con­cern for some liv­ing near com­mer­cial farms.

CARPINTERIA, CALIF.

They call it fresh skunk, the odor cloud or some­times just the stink.

Mike Won­dolowski of­ten finds him­self in the mid­dle of it. He may be on the chaise lounge on his pa­tio, at his com­puter in the house, or tend­ing to his or­ange and lemon trees in the gar­den when the pow­er­ful, nau­se­at­ing stench de­scends on him.

Won­dolowski lives a half-mile away from green­houses that were orig­i­nally built to grow daisies and chrysan­the­mums but now house thou­sands of mar­i­juana plants, part of a boom­ing – and pun­gent – busi­ness seek­ing to cash in on re­cre­ational cannabis, which has been le­gal in Cal­i­for­nia since Jan­uary.

“If some­one is say­ing, ‘Is it re­ally that bad?’ I’ll go find a bunch of skunks and ev­ery evening I’ll put them out­side your win­dow,” Won­dolowski said. “It’s just bru­tal.”

When Cal­i­for­ni­ans voted to le­gal­ize re­cre­ational mar­i­juana in 2016, there were de­bates about driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence and keep­ing it away from chil­dren. But law­mak­ers did not an­tic­i­pate the up­roar that would be gen­er­ated by the funk of mil­lions of flow­er­ing cannabis plants.

As a re­sult of the stench, res­i­dents in Sonoma County, north of San Fran­cisco, are su­ing to ban cannabis op­er­a­tions from their neigh­bor­hoods. Men­do­cino County, farther north, re­cently cre­ated zones ban­ning can- nabis cul­ti­va­tion – the sher­iff’s deputy there says the stink is the No. 1 com­plaint.

In Santa Bar­bara County, cannabis grow­ers con­fronting the rage of neigh­bors are spend­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in­stalling odor­con­trol sys­tems that were de­signed for garbage dumps.

The smell from com­mer­cial cannabis farms, which brings to mind a mix­ture of rot­ting lemons and sul­fur, is noth­ing like the waft­ing cloud that might hover over a Phish show, pot farm de­trac­tors say.

“It’s as if a skunk, or mul­ti­ple skunks in a fam­ily, were liv­ing un­der our house,” said Grace Guthrie, whose home sits on the site of a for­mer ap­ple or­chard out­side the town of Se­bastopol. Her neigh­bors grow pot com­mer­cially.

“It doesn’t dis­si­pate,” Guthrie said. “It’s be­yond any­thing you would imag­ine.”

When cannabis odors are at their peak, she and her hus­band, Robert, some­times wear res­pi­ra­tors, the kind one might put on to han­dle dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals. Dur­ing La­bor Day week­end, rel­a­tives came to stay at the house but cut short their visit be­cause they couldn’t stand the smell.

“I can’t be out­side more than 30 min­utes,” Robert Guthrie said of peak odor times, when the cannabis buds are flow­er­ing and the wind sweeps the smell onto his prop­erty. “The win­dows are con­stantly closed. We are trapped in­side. There’s no es­cape.”

Af­ter nearly one year of re­cre­ational sales in Cal­i­for­nia, much of the cannabis in­dus­try re­mains un­der­ground. Stung by taxes and vo­lu­mi­nous pa­per­work, only around 5 per­cent of mar­i­juana farm­ers in the state have li­censes, ac­cord­ing to Hezekiah Allen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a mar­i­juana ad­vo­cacy group.

Sales of le­gal cannabis are ex­pected to ex­ceed $3 bil­lion this year, only slightly higher than med­i­cal mar­i­juana sales from last year. Tax rev­enues have been lower than ex­pected, and only about one-fifth of Cal­i­for­nia cities al­low sales of re­cre­ational cannabis. The dream of a fully reg­u­lated mar­ket seems years off.

The bal­lot mea­sure le­gal­iz­ing re­cre­ational mar­i­juana passed in 2016 with a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity of 57 per­cent. Many of those com­plain­ing about cannabis odors say they were among those who sup­ported it. They just don’t want it stink­ing up their prop­erty, they say.

“Just be­cause you like ba­con doesn’t mean you want to live next to a pig farm,” said Lynda Hop­kins, a mem­ber of the Sonoma County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, whose of­fice has been in­un­dated with com­plaints about the smell.

Den­nis Bozanich, a Santa Bar­bara County of­fi­cial charged with cannabis im­ple­men­ta­tion who has be­come known as the cannabis czar, says the es­sen­tial oil odor con­trol has been largely suc­cess­ful. But not ev­ery grower can af­ford to in­stall it.

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