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Cannabis users lobby Sonoma to ‘grow their own'

CITY CONSIDERS CANNABIS

Sonoma City Council is expected to make their decision regarding what regulations and what cannabis businesses to allow or prohibit in Sonoma City limits at the City Council Meeting scheduled for May 30 at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers at 177 First St. W., Sonoma.

Read background, access cannabis regulation documents, and learn about currently allowable activities in City limits on the City's

Cannabis Regulation page (www.sonomacity.org/cannabis-regulation/).

It was inevitable that when the Sonoma City Council directed staff to write an ordinance setting strict limits on cannabis growing at its April 16 meeting, some people would be disappointed. The council voted 3-2 that night to limit indoor cultivation to six plants, and prohibit outdoor growing entirely (save for greenhouses).

And, for some, there’s the rub.

It’s not just casual smokers, patients and cultivators who are unhappy, but backyard gardeners like Margie B. The 73-year-old still lives in the Sonoma house she was born in, and said she has the same view out the back door she has seen all her life.

She used to hunt “crawdads in the crick” when she was young and, for the past dozen years or so, she’s grown a couple marijuana plants in her back yard.

“Nothing’s changed, I have the same neighbors,” she says. “It stymies my mind to think that after 14 years, City Hall is saying, ‘No no no, you can’t do that anymore.’”

Her needs are for relief from cervical spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia, among the many conditions for which cannabis is a recognized treatment.

“For a long time I didn’t know what was causing the pain I was in, I couldn’t nail it down,” she recalls. “But even not knowing what causes it, when you go to a doctor they still hand you a pain pill – which makes me violently ill.”

For Margie, marijuana has made her condition bearable, so for years she’s grown her own. What makes her condition worse is driving to Santa Rosa to get CBD oil, which she can’t make in her kitchen. “Let’s face it, our roads aren’t the best in the world, they’re bumpy!”

She says that after the back and forth drive, she often has to rest for a day or two.

“It would be a whole lot easier if I could go downtown and buy some.”

Louise F., another Sonoma resident on the cusp of senior citizenry, has long relied on her favorite dispensary in Berkeley for an assortment of four conditions – back pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression. “Cannabis cured it all,” she says. “It’s better than taking four different types of medication that are addictive and dangerous.”

Since moving to Sonoma full time – she bought her house in 2010 – she’s found the three-hour round trip to Berkeley challenging, and doesn’t like shopping at the Santa Rosa dispensaries. “Their prices are pretty high. The reason I keep going to the Berkeley Patient Group is they’re very well-organized and they try to keep their prices down – they’re good at what they do.” The BPG, as its customers call it, opened in 1999.

Louise was puzzled why three of the five Sonoma City Council members voted against outdoor cultivation. “I’m for anything natural. This is a weed that grows in the ground – it never should have been illegal in the first place.”

Margie, who has grown her backyard plants for years, rebels against the idea of moving the plants indoors. “I can’t do it – for the lighting you need all this equipment, and the bill can be $200 a month. I’m on a fixed income.”

Besides, as Margie says, “The lighting that you use for growing (indoors) can be intensely hot. You can start a fire with those lights – that’s something that’s always on my mind.” She recalls her family being “burned out” when she was 9 years old, and the memory still troubles her.

“There are many misperceptions, fueled by old stigmas and fears, about cannabis,” said Gil Latimer. He’s a member of the ad hoc Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group, whose members are hoping the council will reconsider its ordinance when it receives its second reading on Wednesday, May 30. “We aren’t talking about fields of cannabis plants waving in the wind here, but rather up to only six plants for personal use.”

Latimer was one of dozens who weighed in on a conversation, started by this reporter, on the social media site Nextdoor.com to gauge public opinion and engagement on the issue. Most respondents were in favor of lifting a ban on outdoor cultivation, using arguments as diverse as parity between grape growing for wine and cannabis growing for pot, the individual’s right to grow a now-legal plant (at least in California), and citations of a clause in Proposition 64 that states, “The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes.”

While that argument may not hold water – many local jurisdictions can and do prohibit outdoor cultivation, including Windsor, Cotati and Healdsburg, while most others at least limit it – several readers mentioned that growing a plant indoors carries its own risk, including the risk of fire, as well as the additional expense of lighting and filtration.

CITY CONSIDERS CANNABIS

Sonoma City Council is expected to make their decision regarding what regulations and what cannabis businesses to allow or prohibit in Sonoma City limits at the City Council Meeting scheduled for May 30 at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers at 177 First St. W., Sonoma.

Read background, access cannabis regulation documents, and learn about currently allowable activities in City limits on the City's

Cannabis Regulation page (www.sonomacity.org/cannabis-regulation/).

But by far the single most potent issue was aroma – or odor, stink or fragrance, depending on one’s point of view. Here, opinions were strong and varied.

Some were sanguine, saying that all agriculture – including cheese-making and wine-making – comes with a smell. Others admitted the odor “can be extremely strong and unpleasant if it doesn’t appeal to you.”

Sonoma resident Robert Demler pointed out, “Obviously any ‘smell’ aspect does not bother the City Council who politicized the Great Smelly Tree Controversy of 2018,” referring to the council’s refusal in February to cut down any of the Plaza ginkgo trees, whose odors are often compared to poop or vomit.

Still, Valley resident Kristy Lewis weighed in from experience of having lived next door to someone who grew cannabis and said the smell in the summer “was extremely bad and would travel into our home.” She suggested placing a limit on how many plants a resident can grow outdoors.

DeLaine Emmert, however, was less open-minded. “I don’t want to be exposed to neither cigarette smoke nor cannabis stench,” said Emmert. “More importantly, I don’t want my children exposed to it either.”

Whatever limits city officials settle on regarding outdoor cannabis cultivation, it still comes down to enforcement.

Robert Smith, the city’s prosecutor and head of code enforcement, takes a wait-and-see attitude.

“Typically Code Enforcement is only proactive in the education/information stage of any new ordinance implementation,” said Smith. “And, with the exception of illegal vacation rentals and business licenses, (Code Enforcement) acts only on a complaint basis.”

In other words, if you don’t like the smell, say something. Or don’t.

The City Council is expected to revisit the issue of outdoor cannabis at its May 30 meeting, where it is agendized on the “consent calendar.” For discussion of a consent calendar item to take place the council must agree to pull it from the consent calendar and bring it back for further discussion.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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