Living in a Cannabis Desert

Living in a Cannabis Desert

All politics is local. Decisions made by city councils, mayors and commissioners have a direct and immediate impact on the lives of residents in their communities.

Per California’s DCC, 56 percent of cities and counties prohibit the licensing of all cannabis business types.

An even greater fraction, 62 percent, don’t permit retailers specifically, which would theoretically increase demand for unlicensed sales for people unwilling or unable to travel to a different part of the state for marijuana.

The city of Sonoma serves as an example of limited access. Taking the wide view, it’s difficult not to feel that we are being held hostage in the middle of a cannabis desert with only one small well.

17 dispensaries in Santa Rosa. 6 in Napa.

1 dispensary in Sonoma.

Can’t find a product at one outlet in SR? You have 16 other options.

Can’t find what you need in Sonoma?

Sonoma to Santa Rosa – 60-80 minutes round trip
Sonoma to Cotati – 60 minutes round trip
Sonoma – Napa – 50 minutes round trip

Throw in the time you spend online or on the phone, time spent in store, and don’t forget to add the price of gas, or the price of delivery charge…

City of Sonoma Continues to Support Sparc Dispensary Monopoly

City of Sonoma Continues to Support Sparc Dispensary Monopoly

Unfortunately, the city of Sonoma created, and continues to support, a monopoly that favors Sparc’s dispensary and limits service to our local patient community.

Regardless that there is now service here, its availability remains seriously limited, no thanks to many of those pictured, from left to right:

Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti – arguably has never supported a cannabis dispensary, mysteriously voted to continue the first process, but continues to oppose a second dispensary.

Vice Mayor Kelso Barnett – in order to stall the second dispensary process, misrepresented, distorted information to the public regarding the number of dispensaries in the county and differences in their product pricing

Amy O’Gorman Jenkins – part-owner/lobbyist who wrote a clause into a state Senate bill to grant jurisdictions’ right to ban delivery services, including Sonoma

Erich Pearson – deliberately misrepresented his company’s financial situation to the city council in order to stall any process for a second, competing dispensary

Councilmember Sandra Lowe – accepted campaign donation from Amy O’Gorman Jenkins, who is part-owner of Erich Pearson’s Sonoma outlet

These are just some of the players who have been working against improving the quality of service for medical cannabis patients.

Product Availability an Issue in Sonoma

Product Availability an Issue in Sonoma

In her latest column for the Sonoma Sun, “If it works for veggie burgers…”, SVCG member Josette Brose-Eichar writes, “Do we need a second cannabis dispensary in the City of Sonoma? My little personal story, I think points out, yes we do.” It’s well worth the read.

Her story is one shared by a large number of cannabis patients.

For many, cannabis is a medical necessity. To date, medical cannabis has been legalized in 37 states and the number of state-registered patients approaches 4 million. If you add unregistered users who self-prescribe cannabis for medical reasons, as well as those who report mixed medical/recreational use, then we’re talking many more millions who rely on cannabis to manage their medical conditions and symptoms.

Unfortunately, not all cannabis products are created equally and not all work the same for all users. A patient may need to try a number of similar products before finding a brand that provides the desired relief.

Product availability is another issue. Dispensary inventories can range widely from shop to shop and from even from one visit to the next.

There is no equity for Sonoma’s medical cannabis patients without competition at the local level. The free market means being free of government intervention. Patients deserve competitive pricing, product availability and services.

Will the Sonoma City Council “get it”, or not?

Will the Sonoma City Council “get it”, or not?

During last week’s council meeting, Vice Mayor Kelso Barnett acknowledged that so-called community benefits are not required for any other type of business, “…If we’re trying to normalize cannabis businesses, we should treat (them) like any other business and to require them to pay a certain percentage of profits to charities I think is a little onerous…” he went on to say that if the business owners wanted to contribute to charities, that’s great, but that the real community benefit is that a dispensary provides product to the community and that there is a 4% business tax that goes to city coffers.

That would be a start. Eliminate the Community Benefits package entirely. Or require a local hire component, some type of minimum wage agreement, and a labor peace agreement/mandatory card check requirement. Nothing more.

Trying to equalize monetary charity or in-kind agreements among the businesses doesn’t make sense. Again, applicants should not be competing against each other in order to score the most points in a “community benefits” category. It shouldn’t be about who donates the most to what. Level the playing field.

Or, let’s take it a step further. There is no reasonable, sustainable argument for denying the citizens of Sonoma access to a competitive market.

A competitive market includes numerous producers that compete with one another to provide goods and services consumers want and need. No single producer should be allowed to dictate the market.

The cannabis business permit process is a bloated mess of regulation and procedures that 1) drains the council and staff of time and energy that could be spent on more important issues, 2) encourages questions around any result that Hdl, a highly controversial consultant, may present to the city council and 3), provides opportunities for applicants to overtly or covertly influence decision makers.

Measure Y failed, but got something right. Let’s move to a streamlined ministerial process that supports the fundamental principles of the free market system. A ministerial review process reduces the liability that is inherent in a discretionary process, as there are no subjective criteria to score or grade. In addition, a simple ministerial review of an application is much less time-consuming than a merit-based review.

It’s just common sense…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are good people doing good things in this industry. In the 30+ years spent advocating for medicinal marijuana, I have been fortunate to work with many right-minded, compassionate, ethical human beings who labor very hard every day to provide relief for those most in need. They include multi-generational craft cultivators, conscientious edible manufactures and honest retailers. There are also very good people who are attorneys and legislators and advocates and activists who have fought for truly fair, equitable access to cannabis.

But, like most industries, the cannabis trade harbors its share of pretenders and opportunists, greedy to exploit any opportunity to make a buck at the expense of vulnerable patients and consumers.

Nor is government exempt from the temptation to profit. From the halls of state capitols, to county and city council chambers, whether it’s Fall River, Mass, or Adelanto, Ca, news stories about corruption and its corrosive effects abound, serving to undermine public trust in government and the industry.

Though it may be arguable that the city of Sonoma has been guilty of some degree of corruption around money and power in its management of the dispensary issue, it has most certainly succumbed to a corruption of conscience.

Regarding money and corruption, let’s not forget the conflict-of-interest charge alleging that former council member Rachel E Hundley’s spouse may have contracted with Sparc to manage the No on Measure Y campaign – this at the service of Erich Pearson and Amy O’Gorman Jenkins’ desire to dominate the local cannabis space. Let’s also recall former council member Amy Harrington’s questions around awarding a monopoly to Mr. Pearson and the possibility of backroom manipulations among certain principals to ensure the permit.

But it’s the corruption of conscience in the Sonoma City Council that has been the most disturbing and damaging to optimum access to cannabis for Sonoma’s citizens. For the past year, the city council has acted in bad faith by looking for pretexts to stall the process for a second dispensary. Its out-of-touch tactics have included minimizing the issue and ignoring those who would benefit from competitive pricing, products and services. The council’s pernicious attitude toward reasonableness is difficult to fathom.

Consider the hypocrisy of permitting 30+ wine tasting rooms on and around the Plaza, or the lip service council members pay to the medical benefits of cannabis. Consider, too, the council’s inability and/or unwillingness to become better informed, its denial that the public has any interest in a second outlet, the twisting of facts regarding the current state of the local industry, the questionable campaign contributions, the willingness to be misled by Erich Pearson in order to table the RFP, and Amy O’Gorman Jenkins’ attempt to gaslight SVCG to the realities of the dispensary business while pushing for a delivery ban in cities and counties across California.

These are the ingredients for bad policy. But never mind the fear and loathing in the city council, don’t push too hard, don’t hold people accountable, better to play the game and maybe you’ll get what you want… Who would bet on that as an outcome, given the twenty-year history of cannabis politics in this city? Why should the present iteration of the city council be any different from those of the past that stonewalled the will of the people before finally permitting one single dispensary?

A few have criticized this latest take on cannabis and Sonoma. Regarding the money/corruption reference, I’ve been told it’s “sad” that two years later, I continue to perpetuate something that they feel was made up, that I need to get my facts right. The only fact I stated was that an allegation was made. I did not dive into the details of the story; those are for others to research and read at the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Others have suggested it is again, “sad”, that not all of us celebrate Sonoma’s new dispensary. Yes, a dispensary in Sonoma is a good thing and after 4 years of lobbying the city council, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group will take a fair amount of credit for that. Credit, as well, to former city council members who were instrumental in the success.

By all means, please take advantage of the dispensary for your needs, that’s what we fought for. But know also that it comes at a price.

As well-meaning as some on the city council may have been, they also dropped the ball on doing their due diligence on Erich Pearson and ignored the warning signs that the permit process may have become corrupted. The result is we are now saddled with an unethical business owner whose concerns for himself and his bottom line supersede those of Sonoma Valley patients and consumers.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune has expended a lot of digital ink crowing about “Sonoma’s first marijuana dispensary” in articles that amount to promotional journalism, an unfortunate hybrid of hard news and advertising. Think Darius Anderson, Managing Member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Darius Anderson is also CEO of Platinum Advisors, a major Sacramento lobbying firm and cannabis power broker for whom Amy O’Gorman Jenkins once worked before forming her own lobbying company that includes sparc as a client.

An sf-ethics-lobbyist disclosure-datasets excel sheet created in 2017 listed Anderson’s Platinum Advisors as a lobbyist for sparc.

So, it appears, at one time or another, a lot of folks have shared the same bed. Whether the sheets are “clean” or not, I could not say.

All of the above is only to illustrate that the history of cannabis in Sonoma is as long and storied as it is indispensible and complex. Though the truths embedded in that history may be inconvenient for some, to ignore the facts diminishes them and weakens our understanding of the how and why.

Mayor Agrimonti Response to public comment – City Council, 17 Nov 2021

Dave Eichar’s final question during public comment at the Nov 17 meeting. Inquiring minds *do* want to know. Note the raised eyebrows as the mayor said, “I don’t think so.”

Though Staff had a clear opportunity to respond to Dave’s question, no one dared answer…

Accountability is a cornerstone of good governance.

California Public Records Act Request

California Public Records Act Request

Accountability is a bedrock of representative government. It is about trust between government and citizens. The appearance of questionable behavior hurts public trust. This is why we filed a PRA request with the city for all documents related to the second dispensary process from the last year.

Regarding the PRA request, per Government Code Section 6253, the City of Sonoma must respond to all requests for records within ten calendar days of receipt of the request. The response may include the production of records but alternately may also specify an extension of the production time or an exemption from public disclosure.

The city acknowledged receipt via email on the day it was filed, Nov 21. Ten calendar days takes it out to December 1. Today’s date is, of course, December 9.

We have yet to receive further communication regarding the City’s determination on whether it has records that are responsive to my request under the Public Records Act.

We also have received no communication regarding the City’s right to extend the response time beyond the ten-day period, which should state the reason or reasons for the extension and the anticipated date of the response within the 14-day extension period.

The City appears to be in violation of the Act. We, of course, will follow up…