Sonoma OK’s cannabis grows

Call it a “spliff” decision. The Sonoma City Council last week struggled to reconcile competing elements in a proposed ordinance to regulate cannabis cultivation and cannabis sales in the city, so city officials on Sept. 24 split the issue into two parts – and narrowly approved limited personal cultivation of cannabis both indoors and out.

The other issue at hand – whether or not to allow commercial marijuana sales -- will come back to the council for a likely extension of its moratorium on Oct. 22.

With the council voting 3-2 to allow cultivation – with councilmembers Gary Edwards and Madolyn Agrimonti dissenting – it opens the door for Sonoma residents to grow a maximum of six marijuana plants, three of which can be cultivated outdoors.

The ordinance places several restrictions on cultivation, including specific indoor-growing requirements for ventilation, lighting, water and security.

For outdoor grows, residents are allowed a maximum of three plants on no more than 50 square feet per parcel; cultivation must take place in the rear yard at least 10 feet from the property line; and plants can’t be visible to street passersby or next-door neighbors.

The current moratorium on cannabis cultivation was extended for its second time by the council -- for one additional year -- on Nov. 8, 2017.

Despite the win for supporters of marijuana cultivation, several community members spoke at the meeting to voice their frustration over the moratorium on commercial sales.

Jack Wagner, a candidate for one of three seats up Nov. 6 for Sonoma City Council, said he’d heard the argument that Sonoma is too small a town for a dispensary, but wondered why Sonoma wasn’t too small for its many wineries and tasting rooms.

“I don’t understand what the reservation is (on cannabis dispensaries),” said the city council hopeful. “Hopefully, the people of Sonoma will elect a new council majority” to end the moratorium.

Local tax practitioner Jack Ding, another candidate for city council, however, warned of the tax implications of commercial cannabis.

“The IRS is a federal tax agency that still treats cannabis businesses as not legal,” said Ding. “You should consider the inherent risks.”

Chris Petlock, yet a third council candidate in attendance that night, took issue with the square-footage and property-line setback restrictions in the outdoor-growing portion of the ordinance.

“We’re basically saying that if you live on a small property you can’t grow,” said Petlock.

In the end, council members Rachel Hundley, Amy Harrington and David Cook gave cannabis cultivation the three votes it needed to move forward. Hundley described herself as “thrilled” to be moving ahead with outdoor cultivation due its many environmental benefits over indoor.

Cook, a skeptic of allowing a dispensary in town and largely seen as the Sonoma swing vote on cultivation, said he was happy with this ordinance and reminded the meeting attendees that the legality of cannabis in California was still new and that a clearer picture of the road ahead would come.

“The (dispensary) vote will come back to the council,” said Cook. “But we’ll leave that debate for another day.”

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