Response to Sonoma Sun Editorial on Cannabis Ordinances

Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group logo smaller versionHello SVCG members,

We added a comment to a recent Sonoma Sun editorial on permitting cannabis businesses in the City. You can read the editorial here.


It’s important to understand that any process for a comprehensive cannabis ordinance is fairly detailed and time-consuming.Though the editorial takes a rather skeptical route, it still arrives at a worthy destination.

Time is relative and opening a dispensary won’t happen overnight. The City Council has a reasonable timeline based on recommendations from the consultant: ordinances by the end of June; July set aside for Design Application Process and Cost Recovery Fees; August – September, Application Reviews, Backgrounds and Applicant Interviews; November – December, Award Issuance of Regulatory Permit Pending CUP approval or Operational Agreement; October –April, 2020, Develop tax measure for November 2020 Election.

“Jon Early’s ballot initiative to allow cannabis dispensaries in town will be on the ballot next year, no matter what the city does between then and now. And at the moment, that Early initiative, warts and all, stands a good chance of passing.”

Let the City control its own destiny. By state law, Mr. Early can withdraw his ballot measure up to 88 days before an election. This would be advisable.

“ the city is hurriedly working on the language of an ordinance …, but the draft of that ordinance was strongly and unanimously criticized by Sonoma’s seven-member Planning Commission at its most recent meeting.”

This seems to imply an impasse between the City Council and Planning Commission, but the City Council has proven to be quite progressive and is likely to agree with most of the Commission’s recommendations.

“Developed by a consulting firm…, the content of the 44-page draft ordinance is all but guaranteed to insure no dispensary will ever be established in Sonoma.”

Perhaps if the draft ordinance was accepted in toto, without changes, it would be too onerous for anyone who may have contemplated opening a dispensary in the city. But again, we know the City Council has an interest in creating an environment that would attract such business.

“Overall, the commission recommended at least 15 major changes that deleted over a third of its 44 pages.”

Yes, that’s a good thing. The Planning Commission was actually pretty progressive in its recommendations to strike many of the draft ordinances’ excesses.

“The bigger problem, however, is the way the language of the proposed ordinance treats dispensary owners and customers as ‘pseudo-criminals.’”

We know there are still negative attitudes around cannabis, and that cannabis ordinances in general reflect them in a number of ways, including all the extra security, signage and zoning issues and other regulations. Unfortunately, this is what comes with the territory in 2019. But, if Sonoma’s ordinances largely mirror progressive ordinances in other California jurisdictions, we should be able to live with that for now.

“Since Sonoma has never had a cannabis dispensary before, a go-slow approach is fine, and we support it.”

We feel this *is* a reflection of the old reefer madness propaganda that plays on unfounded fears. We have heard no good argument for the “go slow” approach that is *not* based on old paradigms. In addition, the process from application to permit is so time-consuming that openings will probably occur at a staggered rate.

We do, however, agree whole-heartedly with the editorial’s final paragraph. A good ordinance will do its part to combat the black market and bring in new revenue. “We strongly urge Sonoma’s City Council to accept the recommendations of the Planning Commission and to make the changes the Commission suggested; or simply review and modify a successful ordinance from another small city and completely toss this currently bloated and inappropriate draft ordinance.”

Gil Latimer
Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group

Sonoma Planning Commission Makes 14 Recommendations for New Cannabis Ordinance

This past Thursday night (May 9, 2019) the city of Sonoma Planning Commission reviewed the proposed cannabis ordinances and made a number of useful recommendations, though it does fall short of the number and types of businesses the City Council is currently considering (see #1). For those who may be interested, the ordinances can be seen here in their entirety.

The above video is a very interesting 20 minute excerpt from the meeting. We thank Robert Jacob, a former Mayor of Sebastopol and owner of a number of cannabis businesses for his public comments during the meeting. In a lively back-and-forth, he took exception to Hdl Companies, the consulting firm the city hired to help it fashion the ordinances. HdL’s representative, Tim Cromartie, was present and responded to Mr. Jacob’s assertion that the ordinances were overbearing and prohibitive. Mr. Jacob pointed out a number of issues with the ordinances and made suggestions for a less restrictive approach. The Planning Commission adopted a number of Mr. Jacobs points (as well as some of our own) in its recommendations to the City Council.

The City Council is free to accept or deny any of the following recommendations:

1. Permit only 1 retail storefront (with delivery). No non-storefront delivery, lab, or manufacturer

2. No live video feed to City Manager or Police Dept (footage can be reviewed later if/when necessary), no armed security (unclear on if they should be uniformed)

3. Applicant should not be required to have lease in hand to apply for permit

4. Delete the Community Benefits paragraph

5. Restrict cannabis businesses to Commercial Zones only.

6. Buffer Zones
Figure 1: Add the commercial on the south side of Plaza to Prod buffer
Figure 2: All fine with that buffer
Figure 3: Include Safeway and southern portion of 5th Street West Center in buffer
Figure 4: All fine with this buffer

7. Regarding Proposal Review Process, fix language “An administrative rating system shall be created by the City Manager” to add “and approved by the City Council” (5.36.111)

8. Delete reference to “federal law” (Section 5.36.010. Purpose and Intent.)

9. Evidence of sufficient capital to start business: Majority agrees on deleting Paragraph (l) Startup Cost and Evidence of Sufficient Capitalization (5.36.110 Required Proposal Content)

10. Fix liability language

11. Only necessary to “buzz in” once, to enter dispensary retail space

12. Delete (c) from Section 5.36.420. Community Relations – Liquor stores aren’t required to provide outreach, so why cannabis, which isn’t even addictive?

13. Signage: Majority wishes to delete (4) and (5) from (f) Signage and Notices (Section 5.36.310. General Operating Requirements)

14. Delete all of Section 5.36.410. Promulgation of Regulations, Standards and Other Legal Duties