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Sonoma's city council sticks with indoors-only, six-plant maximum for personal cannabis cultivation

“Grow your own” took on a more literal meaning two years ago when California voters passed Proposition 64, legalizing adult marijuana use in the state.

But in Sonoma, cultivation of cannabis remains largely in the closet – as long as that closet is a fully enclosed structure with adequate lighting, ventilation and security, according to the city’s likely new regulations.

The Sonoma City Council on Monday voted 3-2 to direct city staff to draft a permanent ordinance placing limitations on growing cannabis for personal use within the city limits, mirroring those currently set in the “urgency ordinance” passed last year as a stop-gap measure.

Despite the urging of Councilmembers Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley to relax some of the current limits on outdoor cultivation, their colleagues on the dais were satisfied with what’s already in place with the urgency ordinance – limiting indoor grows to six plants and banning outdoor cultivation entirely.

Cannabis supporter Ken Brown perhaps spoke for the handful of other like-minded community members in the room when he sighed, defeatedly: “I’m flabbergasted.”

The allowance of up to six personally cultivated plants is the minimum to which a city can limit residents, according to state law.

Sonoma’s regulation also places several requirements on any cultivation of the six plants, including having an adequate security, ventilation and filtration systems, and written consent of the property owner. Other restrictions include grow lights be 1,000-watts or less, grows must take place on impervious surfaces in a single location within a residence, and there must be no “exterior evidence” of cannabis cultivation on a property.

Sonoma resident Jewel Mathieson worried that such restrictions on residential grows would be burdensome to those who need the benefits of cannabis most.

“What you’re in essence doing is making (cultivation) impossible for low-income patients,” Mathieson told the council. “(Those) who can’t afford lights, equipment, outdoor structures.”

Resident Jack Wagner, who’s also a member of the Community Services and Environment Commission, recalled that when Proposition 64 passed, he “thought we were moving forward on this.”

Wagner addressed the suggestion made by cannabis critics that outdoor cultivation creates an unsavory odor with which neighbors and passersby shouldn’t be burdened. He compared such complaints to those made about the fetid fruit of the Plaza ginkgo trees. “And the response to that was, basically, just deal with it,” said Wagner, who took a moment to apologize for his atypical “low energy” at the podium, having just come from “a workout.”

Brown added that he was “at a loss” over the council’s “completely wrongheaded approach.”

“Sonoma is a green city,” said Brown. “People have been growing cannabis in the city of Sonoma since it began.”

However, Councilmembers David Cook, Gary Edwards and Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti weren’t convinced.

“We have situations where people are growing 50, 70 plants,” said Edwards. “If we open this up, we’re setting ourselves up for bigger problems down the road.”

Agrimonti said that in some communities in the county, “there is a war going on between residents and neighbors” over cannabis cultivation.

“I feel it infringes on my right as a person walking up Fifth Street East,” said Agrimonti. “Your freedom takes away from my freedom.”

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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