With the clock ticking down on the city’s already year-old moratorium on cannabis cultivation, the Sonoma City Council on Monday extended the ban another year, to again give city officials more time to develop a long-term policy around the newly legal federally controlled substance.
It was the city’s third extension of the moratoriums – a set of three temporary ordinances prohibiting pot grows in the city – which was first placed by the Council on Nov. 7 of 2016 for 45 days, then renewed for an additional 10 months last December.
The previous moratoriums were set to expire at midnight on Monday.
“These ordinances are to buy time,” said City Attorney Jeff Walter, who urged approval of the moratorium extensions in order to give the council more time to draft its own regulations on marijuana cultivation. “If the Council does nothing, we (would be) left with a scramble” to create an ordinance before state law regarding the sale of cannabis takes effect Jan. 2, when the state is expected to begin issuing business licenses for the dispensing of marijuana.
The moratoriums cover the indoor and outdoor cultivation of both medicinal and recreational cannabis, as well as any commercial cannabis activities. Under state law individuals can still cultivate up to six plants for personal use. However, the City’s temporary ordinance places tight restrictions on even that, requiring security systems, structural specifications, written property owner consent and lighting provisions.
Additionally, beginning Jan. 2, the ordinance allows for deliveries of medical cannabis from outside-the-city businesses, as long as they’ve acquired a City of Sonoma permit.
The non-local delivery allowance irked Sonoma resident John Early, who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting to question why the city isn’t supporting local dispensaries.
Early admitted he’d been operating a below-the-radar marijuana dispensary in the City of Sonoma for the past eight years.
“I’m behind closed doors waiting for the opportunity to come out and participate in this industry,” said Early. “We have everything in place to open our doors tomorrow for a deliver service or dispensary. Why would the city explicitly support non-local business?”
The council, however, focused much of its discussion on the timing of the vote on moratorium extensions, coming literally within a hours of expiration.
Councilmember Amy Harrington was particularly frustrated that the City has had a year to prepare its cannabis regulations and yet “the work didn’t get done.”
“I don’t think the city took it seriously at all that this was supposed to be a one-year maximum moratorium,” said Harrington. “Because where we’re at it doesn’t show that there was an expectation that it was going to expire today. It’s expected that we’re going to continue this (moratorium) on and on and on.”
Harrington also questioned whether city staff was working against the will of the council, pointing out that at the end of a cannabis study session in September, she and Hundley had expressed interest in an option for a Sonoma dispensary, yet it wasn’t presented as an option in the current city staff report.
“I don’t understand how when you’re given the direction of this council – (which) did not include banning all cannabis – and yet here it is on the agenda,” said Harrington. “Somehow that’s been paid for researched and presented to us.”