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

Sonoma City Council Moves Forward on Cannabis Ordinance


At its meeting last Monday, April 15, the City Council moved to address some loose ends of its proposed cannabis ordinance. There were a number of items to finalize, including buffer zones, the types of licenses (businesses) the city is open to, many details regarding the selection process, some ideas on how to manage the possible 2020 ballot measure, and discussion of the makeup of the Proposal Review Committee to review business applications.

The types of businesses may likely include two dispensaries, one brick and mortar, the other a non-storefront delivey service, and one edible manufacturer (or 1 packaging/labeling facility) and one testing lab.

You can see the City Council in action at

Discussion begins at 55:30 – 2:15:00

Next step: The written ordinance will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and its own recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council. The Planning Commission meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 9.

The City Council will then review those recommendations and there could be a first reading of a comprehensive cannabis ordinance at the council’s June 3 meeting. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any changes.

We’d like to thank Mayor Amy Harrington, Vice-Mayor Logan Harvey, Councilwoman Rachel E Hundley, Councilman David Cook, the City Manager, Planning Director and City Attorney for managing this very heavy lift!

So, as we stated before, the ball is rolling on this ordinance faster and faster. We ask those who care about safe, local access to medicinal  cannabis (adult rec, too) to please come to these upcoming meetings. If you can’t come to a meeting, you can send an email to the City Council and Planning Commission to show your support!

City Council:

Planning Commission:


Gil Latimer,

Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group

Sonoma Planning Commission Appears Muddled, Important Upcoming City Council Meeting

city council audience

Hello All,

The Sonoma Planning Commission held its first public hearing on a cannabis ordinance last night (the second is scheduled for May 9).

Though it understands how to administer zoning laws and ordinances, some commission members displayed a lack of knowledge of cannabis and the types of businesses attached to it.

Some also expressed exasperation that this process was initiated by the City Council, rather than the commission. At one point the commission’s chair firmly pointed out that “this is how government works” and that the commission would get a crack at changing/adding/subtracting items when the ordinance comes back to them from the Council.

The Sonoma City Council has a much firmer grasp of the issue. It seems that if the Planning Commission was left to initiate an ordinance, there might never be any cannabis business in the city.

Meanwhile, the City Council will hold its second study session on the issue at its April 15 meeting (Monday, 6 pm, 177 First St West). You can see the Agenda and the Report PDF here:

The Council will consider possible adjustments to the buffer maps and an outline of the merit-based application process. A draft ordinance will be drawn up and presented to the Planning Commission on May 9 for its own review/changes/recommendations. After that come the first and second readings of the ordinance in June.

So, the ball is rolling on this ordinance faster and faster. We *strongly* encourage anyone who cares about safe, local access to medicinal  cannabis (adult rec, too) to please come to these upcoming meetings. If you can’t come to a meeting, send an email to the City Council and Planning Commission to show your support!

City Council:

Planning Commission:


Gil Latimer,

Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group

Sonoma Planning Commission to Hold Hearings on Cannabis Businesses

Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group logo

Sorry about the short notice, but we were not notified until this afternoon. The Sonoma (City) Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, April 11 (tomorrow) regarding how the city should approach regulating cannabis businesses. The public hearing will take place in 2 parts, the second will occur on May 9. Both will be held at the City Council Chambers, 177 First Street West, starting at 6:30 PM.

You can see the Agenda here:

The Planning Commission Staff recommends the following procedure for this hearing:

Open the Public Hearing, receive public testimony, and continue Hearing to Planning Commission meeting on May 9, 2019.

Recommended Hearing Process:

1.Open Public Hearing
2.Receive staff report and Power-point Presentation by HdL. (This should be the same one that was presented to the City Council last month)
3.Questions from the Planning Commission.
4.Public Testimony.
5.Additional Commission Deliberation
6.Continue public hearing to May 9, 2019.

So, the process continues and once the Planning Commission has given its input, there could be a first reading of the ordinance on June 3, 2019, and a second reading on June 10, 2019. We encourage you to please come to these meetings to show your support!

SVCG has also sent an email to the Planning Commission urging its support:

To: Sonoma Planning Commission and Staff:

On behalf of the 200 members of the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group and the residents of Sonoma and its surrounding communities who support medical and personal access to cannabis, we thank the Planning Commission for moving forward on this issue.

As of April 9, 2019, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group’s petition for a cannabis dispensary with delivery service has garnered 417 signatures. The petition text can be seen at

Comments were submitted by nearly 50 of those petition signers and they can be seen here:

The City Council also received well over 40 emails from Sonoma area citizens who support a local dispensary and we provided a copy of those emails to the Planning Commission in our email to it on 9/11/18.

In light of the above, we ask the Planning Commission to support the City Council’s proposed regulations to allow certain commercial cannabis businesses within the City.

As always, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group is ready and willing to answer any questions you may have.


Gil Latimer

Ken Brown

and the members of the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group

Hope to see you at the meeting and Thanks!

Sonoma Moves Forward on Cannabis Ordinance

The good news continues and we’ll let the City of Sonoma’s posting fill you in:

City Council Gives Direction on Commercial Cannabis Ordinance

Posted on March 8, 2019

At their meeting of March 4, 2019, Sonoma City Council held a Cannabis Study Session to review, discuss, and provide direction on local regulation of Commercial Cannabis activities. You can read the staff report and watch a recording of the Commercial Cannabis Study Session on our CivicWeb portal (Study Session begins at 1:07:46).

Following a presentation by David McPherson with HdL Companies, the Council provided the following direction on five types of Commercial Cannabis activities: Retail Dispensaries; Cultivation; Manufacturer; Distributor; and Testing Labs. In addition, the Council provided direction on zoning and the number of permits available for each type of activity.


RETAIL DISPENSARIES: Two (2) Total: one (1) storefront, and one (1) non-storefront. Council directed to allow two cannabis dispensaries within the City. One to allow retail sales in a “storefront” facility which is open to the public during regular business hours and the second to be a “non-storefront” dispensary that would only allow sales to customers exclusively through delivery and not be open to the public/retail traffic.

CULTIVATION: None. No cultivation of commercial cannabis to be allowed in the city limits.

MANUFACTURER: One (1) Type N (for infusions) and/or Type P (for packaging and labeling only). One non-volatile manufacturing cannabis business that would be focused on food or topical health-related products.

TESTING: One (1). One testing cannabis facility.

DISTRIBUTION: For Transport Only. Distribution will only be allowed for transportation of a business’ own product, not for general distribution.


The City Council gave direction on areas to not allow commercial cannabis by establishing “buffer zones” and by directing appropriate zoning areas. The ordinance will include provisions for state-mandated buffers of 600 feet around public and private schools (K-12). Shopping centers and some smaller retail locations would be exempt from these 600 feet buffer zones. Other locally sensitive locations to be excluded include the Sonoma Valley Little League fields on First Street East and the Plaza. Specifically, the Council directed that no commercial cannabis would be allowed within the Plaza Retail Overlay District.

The Storefront will be able to locate in Commercial zones with a Use Permit issued by the Planning Commission. The Non-Storefront Dispensary, Manufacturer, and Testing Lab will be allowed in either the Commercial or Mixed-Use zone outside of buffer areas with a Use Permit approved by the Planning Commission.


April – June 2019, Regulatory Ordinance & Land Use Ordinance Development

June – July 2019, Design Application Process and Cost Recovery Fees

August – September 2019, Application Reviews, Backgrounds and Applicant Interviews

November 2019, Present Staff Report Recommendations to City Council

November – December 2019, Award Issuance of Regulatory Permit Pending CUP approval or Operational Agreement

Please note, until this regulatory ordinance for Commercial Cannabis is developed, all commercial cannabis activities are currently prohibited in the city of Sonoma, except for deliveries of medical cannabis from dispensaries located outside of city limits. See a list of licensed delivery companies and learn more about currently allowable activities on the City’s Cannabis Regulation page.