Council eyes streamlining dispensary process

Proposed new guidelines would shorten approval of operating certificate for cannabis shops, leading to second walk-in dispensary in Sonoma.|

The Sonoma City Council on Wednesday will review new guidelines to the City’s commercial cannabis ordinance to streamline the process for allowing a second storefront cannabis business to operate in the city limits.

In April, the council approved an amendment to the ordinance to pave the way for a second walk-in cannabis store. At the same time, council members asked city staff to find ways to shorten the evaluation and selection process in awarding a conditional certificate to operate a cannabis business. The the process for awarding the first certificate, approved for the Sparc dispensary in late 2020, took nearly a year.

Sparc’s proposal to operate its dispensary at the former El Gallo Pinto restaurant at 19315 Sonoma Highway comes to the Sonoma Planning Commission for final review on Thursday, Sept. 9 – more than 21 months since the city first started fielding applications for dispensary hopefuls in January of 2020.

Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti expressed frustration this week that the process has taken so long.

“Currently, I’m waiting for the first dispensary to open,” said Agrimonti when asked about the prospect of a second business.

Whether a second dispensary will be viable in Sonoma, she said, will be a matter of “supply and demand.”

“Anyone considering opening a second dispensary must consider that fact. As any business would,” Agrimonti said.

Agenda Report - Draft New_Revised Application Procedures And Guidelines - Pdf.pdf

The city’s initial commercial cannabis ordinance was approved in June of 2019 and allowed for one storefront business and one delivery business. But in the ensuing application period, no proposals were received for a conditional certificate for a delivery-only dispensary, leading some on the council to call for allowing a second storefront business instead.

As with the previous selection process, the new guidelines will evaluate applicants based on such criteria as ownership’s qualifications and experience, what community benefits they may offer, and having sound business, safety, security and labor plans.

But City staff estimates that a significant time savings will be had by requiring applicants to identify a proposed site of their dispensary along with their initial submission – a change from the current process which carves out a separate period to identify a site after a first round of application review.

Additionally, if fewer than five proposals are received, the applicants will be treated as finalists for the certificate and immediately move to the second phase of the selection process, which includes presentations to the City Council and tours of proposed dispensary sites.

Each applicant will be required to submit a non-refundable fee of $12,000, to pay for City staff and consultant time during the application process.

While Sparc is the only walk-in dispensary certified within the Sonoma city limits, three other dispensary applications are currently under review in the Sonoma Valley – at 15499 Arnold Drive (at the corner of Madrone Road), 15 Fremont Drive (at the Highway 121/116 junction) and 8910 Highway 12 (near Palooza Brewpub in Kenwood).

Water Shortage and Conservation Plan

Also under consideration by the council at the Sept. 8 meeting is an ordinance that better aligns the current Water Shortage and Conservation Plan in the city municipal code with the Urban Water Management Plan and the Water Shortage Contingency Plan adopted by the council this past June.

The primary difference in the drought-mitigation policies is that the current plan, adopted in 2015, described four water-shortage stages in which increased water reductions would be required, while the newer policies include six stages of reductions.

The six stages run the gamut from Stage 1’s voluntary reduction measures such as asking residents not to wash sidewalks and driveways with hoses and restaurants to serve water only be request, to Stage 6’s prohibition of any new water-using landscaping and requiring residents to reduce water by 55% from previous use.

City staff is recommending the council introduce the amendments in order to bring consistency to the plans, as well as help the City achieve its water conservation goals.

Fines for violating the water plans are $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $300 for a third or subsequent violation within one year.

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