Sonoma holds second town hall on cannabis regulation
The second of two “town halls” on the ever-smoldering subject of cannabis in Sonoma takes place tomorrow, Wednesday April 11, to explain state and local policies on legalized cannabis, and gauge local preferences and priorities in cannabis regulation.
The first meeting was held on March 28, in the same venue – Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center. This second meeting will focus on answering questions from the prior Town Hall, especially those related to the state-mandated cannabis buffer zones from schools and youth facilities as defined by local governments.
About 40 people were in the hall for that first meeting, as well as four of the five city councilmembers, two representatives from Muni Services – the consulting firm helping the city wade through the regulatory weeds – and a handful from city government, including Planning Director David Goodison and City Manager Cathy Capriola.
Jeff Kolin, of Muni Services, opened his presentation by admitting, “I know that many of you here are more familiar with cannabis that I am,” then went on to review the results of the 2016 Proposition 64 that legalized recreational use of cannabis products. That passed statewide with 57 percent in favor, higher still in Sonoma County with 59 percent, and even higher in the city of Sonoma where 62.4 percent of voters approved the proposition.
That strong local support encouraged many in attendance to say time and again that Sonoma residents support legalized cannabis, and that it’s incumbent upon the city to allow adult use. (Kolin pointed out that nowhere in Prop. 64 does it mention “recreational cannabis” as opposed to “medicinal,” instead using the term “adult use,” and specifying an age requirement of 21 and over.)
However, the city’s directive to Muni Services was to investigate only medicinal cannabis policy, not adult use, one topic that might be addressed again at the Wednesday meeting. Muni Services was also asked to look at manufacturing with non-volatile solvents, testing small samples for potency or contaminants, and medical retail regulation.
Capriola at a couple points made it clear that manufacturing with volatile solvents such as butane would not be permitted in Sonoma, because there are no “industrial” zones that would permit such chemicals, just “light industrial.”
The second meeting is likely to go into more detail on buffer zones, not only state-mandated but locally-regulated. California’s Prop. 64 includes buffer zones of at least 600 feet from a school, though the buffer for youth facilities (such as the Boys & Girls Clubs at Maxwell Farms Regional Park) are up to local jurisdictions. The inclusion of day-care centers is also an unknown – not only the location of such childcare facilities in Sonoma, but how far any buffer zone should extend around them.
Currently, under the terms of the cannabis moratorium last passed in Decemeber, Sonoma permits smoking cannabis in a private residence (or licensed business for on-site consumption, none of which are to be found north of San Francisco); possession of up to 28.5 grams (about an ounce) of cannabis and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis such as hash; and cultivation of up to six living plants in a private residence or outside greenhouse, if covered and not visible from a public right-of-way.
Permitted dispensaries whether medical or adult-use are allowed in only about half the jurisdictions in Sonoma County, including Cotati, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cloverdale and Petaluma, though there are county-permitted dispensaries elsewhere in Sonoma County. (There are currently two dispensary permits in process in the Sonoma Valley, one outside of Glen Ellen and one near the Highway 121/116 intersection at Bonneau Road.)
Were Sonoma to continue banning retail dispensaries as a result of the current study process, it would join Rohnert Park, Windsor and Healdsburg among the towns which have chosen not to allow them. Muni Services provided a chart showing what restrictions those jurisdictions and other put on cannabis – and what the cost to open such a business are, in terms of fees, licenses and taxes.
The meeting included a straw poll, of sorts, when those present were asked to place sticky notes on a graph indicating strong opposition to strong approval of the various cannabis businesses under study: manufacturing, testing, dispensary and delivery in Sonoma. At the end of the 15-minute voting period, the chart was heavily weighted toward “strongly support” for all four categories.
Several of those who spoke both before and after the straw poll were seniors, including Tosca Lenci (“in my ninth decade,” she said), who pointed out that “The challenges to the aging mind are great – a little cannabis goes a long way.”
Recently-retired physician Dr. Walter Prehn said he had never recommended cannabis use for his patients. But he admitted, “We don’t have a good way of dealing with chronic pain,” adding that as far as the medical use of cannabis, “I learned from my patients.”
Chris Petlock pointed out that cannabis is readily available in Sonoma for those who have a “network” of friends, but “medicinal dispensaries are for people who cannot help themselves, for whatever reason. Having them here in town is the compassionate thing to do.”
But not everyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of easy availability for cannabis in Sonoma. Antoinette Curry, who has voiced similar views before previous City Council meetings, said, “I see no positive reason for society... If this were to happen, I’d move away.” Tom Hauser voiced a similar point of view.
Jon Early, a notable cannabis advocate, was singled out by name several times by members of the public who testified to the medicinal benefits of CBD-heavy cannabis products they have received from him for personal discomfort and even pet ailments. He himself advocated for a public dispensary on West Napa Street, in the former Community Café complex, though whether or not that location would be permissible depends on whether the city decides to include the Sonoma Valley Regional Library among youth-related locations.
Most comments were clearly positive in support of cannabis, and many pointed to the yellow-stickered chart, heavily weighted toward the right side, as evidence of the popularity of their position. Yet the city has more to grapple with than a straw poll in deciding a way forward for cannabis regulation in Sonoma.
“When we do polls, it’s a pulse of whoever’s in the room,” said Capriola. And the color of the room that Wednesday was decidedly green.
The second Cannabis Town Hall will be held Wednesday, April 11, at Andrews Hall, at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., beginning at 6:30 p.m.