Endorsement: Measure Y seeks to replace city cannabis ordinance
Sonoma voters on the Nov. 3 ballot will be asked to determine the direction of the city’s retail cannabis future – a question that just two years ago would have seemed absurd given the then-city council majority’s reluctance to allow commercial pot shops to operate in Sonoma.
Ironically, it was that very refusal to OK retail cannabis dispensaries in town —despite 64 percent of city voters approving of Proposition 64, the 2016 state initiative that legalized marijuana throughout California — that led to this election’s Measure Y, aka the Personal Cannabis Cultivation Initiative.
Here’s the backstory: In summer of 2018 when the council voted against allowing dispensaries in town, Sonoma resident and would-be dispensary operator Jon Early staged a successful signature drive to place a pro-dispensary measure on that November’s ballot. But prior to OK’ing the measure for the ballot, the council called for a $25,000 independent analysis of its potential impacts to the city – a stall tactic from a resistant council that pushed it passed the deadline for the 2018 election, kicking what would become Measure Y two years down the road to where we are now.
Voters should note that the council’s 2018 delay tactic of an “independent analysis” of the measure was clearly intended to keep it off that year’s ballot – to deny a public vote on it, apparently out of fear it might pass. The only reason the council would have sought an analysis of the measure would be if they were considering approving it as an official city ordinance prior to the vote – which, they made perfectly clear, none of them were willing to do.
As it happens, the election of Sonoma resident Logan Harvey in 2018 tipped the council in a pro-dispensary direction, which then developed its own commercial cannabis ordinance. That ordinance, which passed in 2019, allows for the city to license a single walk-in dispensary and a single delivery-only dispensary. After winnowing down to a handful of final applicants for the lone walk-in dispensary, the council in August awarded the highly prized license to Sparc, a company with dispensary roots in San Francisco and a grow operation in Glen Ellen. As part of the deal, Sparc must pay its employees a living wage, allow them to organize and provide other “community benefits” — benefits that opponents say would not be required of other dispensaries under Measure Y.
So, now, instead of Measure Y seeking to replace an ordinance that allows for zero storefront dispensaries in town – as was the case during the 2018 signature drive – it now seeks to replace an ordinance that allows for one storefront dispensary. How things change in two years.
Both Measure Y and the city’s current ordinance allow for limited indoor cultivation as well as other cannabis-related interests such as testing and manufacturing.
While there are notable differences in how the ordinances treat cultivation – Measure Y would allow six indoor plants per adult, but doesn’t allow outdoor growing; the current city ordinance limits it to six indoor plants per residence and three outdoor plants – what’s really at play here are dispensaries. And the question is: Will Sonoma have just one council-approved choice, or more than one?
Measure Y opponents highlight the fact that the initiative doesn’t cite any limits on the numbers of dispensaries allowed. Though it’s worth noting that the independent analysis of the measure funded by the city in 2018 shows that, given its required distances from some schools (it can open by private preschools) and residential-zoned areas, there would be only about five viable locations for any dispensary under Measure Y in Sonoma.
Does that mean a vote for Measure Y is a vote for five dispensaries? Hardly.
As much as some Valley residents (and tourists) enjoy an occasional toke, the financial viability of retail cannabis in a town of this size has its limits. But a likely scenario if Measure Y passes is that Sparc’s planned dispensary at 19315 Sonoma Highway – the site of the former El Gallo Pinto restaurant – is joined by at least one more dispensary at 865 W. Napa St., the site of the former Community Café, which has long been identified as a potential suitable location for walk-in retail cannabis. The runner-up applicant for the city’s single dispensary license, Justice Grown, had identified this site in its application.
As Measure Y would not require dispensaries to be permitted by the city, opponents are quick to call out Y’s alleged lack of city oversight. In his impartial analysis of the measure, City Attorney Jeff Walter wrote, “No provision is made for the city or the community to examine and mitigate, in advance of their opening, such businesses’ impacts on the community and the environment.”