Sonoma City Council OK with 2 dispensaries

One walk-in cannabis dispensary, and one deliver-only cannabis dispensary – that’s where the Sonoma City Council stood Monday at the end of its March 4 meeting, a cannabis study session meant to give direction on how many adult-use dispensary businesses to allow under the city’s revised cannabis ordinance.

In addition to the two dispensaries, council members voiced support for allowing one cannabis-testing business and one cannabis-product manufacturing business in the city, though multiple council members said they’d like to learn more about the manufacturing before committing to that commercial use.

The study session was held to give city staff a sense of reach of the ordinance – what types of adult-use cannabis businesses to allow, and where. The city has contracted with cannabis-consulting firm HdL Companies for $29,200 to help the city draft its new law.

Under the city’s current ordinance, the only commercial cannabis activity allowed is medicinal deliveries from outside the city limits.

But at the behest of Councilmembers Rachel Hundley, Logan Harvey and Mayor Amy Harrington, the council this year is moving toward permitting a limited number of in-city cannabis operations which, the council majority says, better reflects the will of the more than 60 percent of Sonoma voters who supported Proposition 64, the 2016 statewide initiative which legalized recreational marijuana in California.

The council’s other two members, David Cook and Madolyn Agrimonti, have been consistent in their opposition to allowing a dispensary within the city limits.

“I feel like I’m playing poker with no cards here,” said Cook, when asked about the number of dispensaries he’d support. “I am not for a dispensary in the City of Sonoma.”

Cook said he would, however, support a dispensary in the unincorporated Sonoma Valley; Cook also this week announced his intention to run for 1st District Supervisor in 2020.

With neither Cook nor Agrimonti supporting any dispensaries anywhere in the city, the shaping of the ordinance was left to Harrington, Harvey and Hundley.

HdL spokesperson Dave McPherson told the council at the meeting that typical dispensary requirements include a cannabis-business permit from the city, plus state licensing and a state seller’s permit. All owners and employees of a dispensary would be required to undergo background checks.

Sonoma resident Josette Brose-Eichar applauded the city for contracting HdL to guide Sonoma through the commercial cannabis jungle and urged the council to better educate skeptics of adult-use dispensaries. She said the difference in clientele from when Cotati dispensary Mercy Wellness switched from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana was negligible.

“It’s much better than if you go to buy alcohol,” Brose-Eichar said in comparison.

Typical state guidelines require “buffer zones” between cannabis businesses and youth-serving facilities, such as schools and playgrounds. The state default buffer is 600 feet but, McPherson said, cities can make the buffer zones larger or smaller at their discretion.

“The high school is my biggest concern,” said Hundley. “I wouldn’t want anything they could get to during the day.”

Youth buffer zones aside, the Sonoma City Council members generally favored locating the dispensaries in commercial zones, with a particular eye toward shopping centers, where parking is more prevalent. Harvey described the Sonoma Marketplace shopping center on Second Street East as “one of the best options.”

As to Sonoma’s busiest commercial district – the Plaza area – council members were mixed.

“I don’t think that the town necessarily should be having a dispensary on the Plaza right now,” said Harvey. “Though I think that is something that will likely be happening in the future.”

Hundley agreed that it may too soon to focus on the Plaza for a dispensary, but said it could be an ideal location under the right circumstances.

“The Plaza I think in theory is actually an amazing place to have a dispensary, particularly down one of the alleys,” said Hundley.

Sonoma resident Jewel Mathieson, operator of the Sonoma Patient Group dispensary in Santa Rosa, was bemused about all the talk of where and where not to have cannabis, when the city is teeming with wineries and tasting rooms.

“I just want to point out the irony of all these (buffer zones) where we’re protecting our children – we also dispense alcohol,” said Mathieson.

Under the city’s cannabis timeline, the council could approve the new ordinance by June and begin reviewing applications from dispensary operators by the end of summer.

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