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Sonoma still stalling on cannabis

A medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Rosa. Such pre-Prop. 64 establishments set up a solid infrastructure that allowed for an easier transition to a recreational cannabis economy.

JASON WALSH,

“Every other city in the county has drafted (cannabis) regulations… the fire just happened, but there was an entire year before that that the work didn’t get done.” That’s a quote from Sonoma City Councilmember Amy Harrington who, at the Nov. 7 council meeting, was one of multiple city officials to display their vexation at Sonoma’s negligible progress in passing its own cannabis regulations during its marathon marijuana moratorium that, thanks to a 4-1 vote by council, will now stretch into year two.

As Harrington, the lone “nay” against the extension of the moratorium, rightly pointed out, while Sonoma sits on the sidelines of a major – and voter mandated – new economic force, others haven’t been so shy to strike the match.

The City of Santa Rosa, for example, made cannabis a priority since the passage of Proposition 64 a year ago. The city’s already established cultivation guidelines, approved the Measure D cannabis business tax and, this month, is holding public hearings about its draft Cannabis Policy.

The County of Sonoma, as well, has enacted similar guidelines and is already at the stage of holding workshops on security and business crime prevention in preparation for when the permitted sale of recreational pot opens up Jan. 2.

Granted, many larger municipalities have had a huge head start – they’ve got more staff to commit to cannabis programs and many had already established guidelines for medical cannabis dispensaries. A lot of their infrastructure existed long before Prop. 64. But, all the same, they’ve clearly recognized the economic game-changing possibilities of the repeal of pot prohibition.

Even state Treasurer John Chiang is anteing up to the estimated $1 billion a year industry in an effort to map out strategies to handle all the cash and pay all the taxes while the state awaits, as he put it, the federal government’s inevitable “catch(ing) up with the faster evolving values and viewpoints of (California).”

Chiang is even floating the idea of a state bank – an early Christmas gift to those who’ve been lobbying for such a public financial institution for years – if only to serve the potentially lucrative cannabis industry.

Some of the state’s most creative entrepreneurial minds are hashing out plans to make cannabis viable in California.

And with its established reputation for wine tourism, agriculture-friendly climate, economic stability and progressive mores, Sonoma County could position itself to become the Silicon Valley of the entire cannabis industry.

But the City of Sonoma’s policy on cannabis? We just entered into our second year of banning it.

There was plenty of finger pointing at the Nov. 6 council meeting over who failed to prioritize the city’s needed cannabis regulations – the mayor, some council members and city staff were all on the defensive at various points Monday. But, a year-plus into the pot impasse, blame is neither important nor productive. What was encouraging, however, is that the Council and city staff publicly pushed their chips to the center of the cannabis table and are going to have to make the city’s pot platform a priority going forward.

Whether the council embraces the industry, of course, is the $300-an-ounce question.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.