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Sonoma City Council upholds cannabis moratoriums on cultivation, selling

The City of Sonoma tightened its clip on marijuana this week, when the City Council voted unanimously to extend its moratoriums on cannabis cultivation and licensed dispensing for another 10 months.

The council had already signaled the move at its Nov. 6 meeting, when city staff urged the council to buy time through the moratoriums in order to create a permanent ordinance while new state cannabis law takes effect Jan. 2, when the state is expected to begin issuing business licenses for the sale and dispensing of recreational marijuana.

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, 2016, for 45 days, then renewed for an additional 10 months last December.

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.

Though the council approved the moratoriums, they also agreed to hold community discussions about the possibility of allowing a medical marijuana dispensary to operate within the city limits.

That was good news to several community members at the meeting who spoke in favor of allowing dispensaries to be licensed within the city.

One such resident is Jon Early, who says he’s been operating a cannabis dispensary in the city since 2010 and said he’d be interested in “working closely with the city” to establish a legal dispensary, possibly at the Annex Wine Bar location on West Napa St.

Former council member Larry Barnett pointed to other towns within the county and said Sonoma is “grievously behind the curve” on the cannabis issue.

“Let’s get real here,” said Barnett. “Prohibition doesn’t work. The world is changing… it’s time for the City of Sonoma to catch up.”

Resident Richard Silver echoed Barnett’s description of Sonoma’s cannabis lag.

“Sadly, of the nine incorporated cities in the county, eight have been moving to embrace (the future of cannabis),” Silver said, urging council members to take the lead from other communities.

Former council member Laurie Gallian said the city has been mistaken in not moving more quickly on cannabis regulation.

“You can learn from the past,” said Gallian, who was Mayor during the campaign for Proposition 64, the initiative voters would go on to approve in November of 2016, legalizing recreational marijuana in California. “Put this on the fast track; no longer keep it on the to-do list.”

Several past and current members of various county growers alliances also spoke in support of the city allowing cultivation and dispensing.

Councilmember Gary Edwards, however, said he remains skeptical – citing his concerns over kids being near cannabis, the amount of plants he sees already growing in town and the challenges in enforcing regulations.

“We can’t even enforce our own smoking ordinance,” said Edwards, noting the prevalence of tobacco on the Plaza, where it is forbidden under city code. “(Enforcement) doesn’t work.”

Edwards said if he were to seriously consider a dispensary, it would be for medical marijuana – not recreational. “We don’t need to be like everybody else,” he said about Sonoma differing from other communities like Sebastopol, which have been thus far been more open to cannabis.

Councilmember David Cook said he’d support outside delivery of marijuana, but was dubious about a walk-in dispensary. “I don’t like the dispensaries I’ve seen,” said Cook.

Councilmembers Rachel Hundley and Amy Harrington seemed more open- minded about dispensaries, with Harrington saying she wanted to respect the results of Prop. 64.

“Sixty-two percent of the adult voters said they want recreational marijuana to be legal for adults,” said Harrington. “What adults do in their homes is their business.”

Added Harrington: “We’re not here to be the parents of other adults.”

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.