Last week we learned that during the next fiscal year the county expects to collect $10.6 million in cannabis taxes alone. These projected revenues enabled Supervisors to budget essential public services throughout our community, especially for vulnerable populations such as seniors, communities of color and families struggling with food insecurity issues.
As an essential industry, cannabis businesses have continued to operate under strict safety protocols and precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Santa Barbara County, cannabis farmers pay 4% on gross sales. The county will have collected more than $20 million in cannabis cultivation taxes by the end of this fiscal year. While other counties are grappling with furloughs that create an even greater demand for public services, Santa Barbara County is using this new revenue stream to retain its employees and deliver services.
Yet, amidst these contributions, cannabis farmers have faced constant appeals and hearings attempting to impede their livelihoods and farms, including Thursday’s County Supervisors’ meeting.
Following the hearing, Teddy Cabugos, owner of Sunstone Winery, released a statement to the Press. His comments are supported by the recent survey results (read the Polling Memo here) of more than 500 Santa Barbara County registered voters who strongly feel that Cannabis and Wine entrepreneurs should work together to spur economic growth and create sustainable jobs over the long term for local residents.
“It’s ironic that, when vineyards first emerged in the Santa Ynez Valley in the 1980s and ‘90s, the wine industry experienced similar resistance. The community feared alcohol would compromise the Valley’s integrity, and that wine culture would displace the cattle and horse-ranching tradition. However, cattle and horse-ranching were only two of the many cultures in the Valley’s recent history, including olive, peach, walnut, prune, cherry, quince, and dairy farmers, and Chumash inhabitants before them. Each of these cultures has made a lasting impact on the Valley’s rich heritage. As we now see, history is repeating itself.
Enter cannabis. We at Sunstone, among other wineries, envision a culture synergistic of cannabis and wine. We envision the future birth of a new culture of class and elegance, where the community and visitors can visit wine and cannabis tasting rooms, further placing Santa Barbara County on the map as a world-class tourist destination. Like wine, cannabis is a connoisseur-good so specialized as to inspire tastings and a new vocabulary. If Santa Barbara acts with pioneering foresight, it will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to positively reinvent the cannabis image and define an entire industry.
We believe and emphasize that, for small wineries such ourselves, cannabis as a supplemental crop is critical to the viability of our businesses. After more than twenty-five years of a robust wine industry in the Valley, wine is on a marked decline. Millennials are largely behind the decline, as they are disconnecting with alcohol for a variety of health and lifestyle reasons. When millennials do choose alcohol, they now have diverse offers in breweries and beer and now recently many different Seltzers. As a result of this shift, many wineries now find themselves in the red, with many landowners facing foreclosure. With cannabis legalization and rediscovery of its medicinal, therapeutic, and recreational uses, we view cannabis with the potential to help save our wine business, and help revitalize the entire community. It can help save smaller wineries from going out of business, by diversifying their land and brand, so long as all the proper procedures are in place. We understand there are very wealthy wineries out there that don’t count on their winery business for income, many of whom actually use their winery as a tax write off. Not all wineries are in that position. 99% of the super wealthy wineries made their money in different businesses.
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and economic shutdown, cannabis is more critical than ever to our community. Jobs and tax revenues are needed like never before. Around the country, cannabis revenues are saving counties, cities, and even states. Santa Barbara County is extremely fortunate that, through its climate and rich land, it has the potential to develop one of the most prosperous cannabis industries in the world. At this unimaginable time in history, we need to be thinking about ways to make it easier for responsible constituents or businesses to pursue the cannabis opportunity. We should be thinking about ways to make it easier to build this industry, to create massive job expansion, and to generate huge tax revenue for our community. Why would anyone want to crush that?”
We are grateful for neighbors and partners, like Teddy, represented across so many industries in our community. Thank you, as always, for your continued support at each hurdle. Together, we will thrive as good farmers and great neighbors.