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Valley Forum: Cannabis advocate Erich Pearson calls for compromise

The town of Sonoma is sometimes called “the Island,” referring to our slight geographic isolation and unique civic character. The truth, of course, is that this town is no more an island than is any one person. Yet recent actions around the establishment of legal cannabis dispensaries in city limits make Sonoma seem like an island of government timidity and personal threats. It’s time to allow Sonoma voters to decide upon local dispensaries and it’s more than time for politicians and signature seekers to find the middle ground on an issue that most of Sonoma County has worked so hard to manage.

When California voters passed Proposition 64 allowing adult cannabis use, over 60 percent of Sonomans were part of the yes contingent. When Sonoman Jon Early gathered some 747 legal signatures to put a dispensary issue on this November’s city ballot, he proved that there are more than enough citizens ready to decide on the issue.

But when the city council voted last month to delay Early’s ballot measure until 2020, they voted to delay both the democratic process and to waste taxpayer money with an unnecessary study. And when Early responded by threatening a councilmember via email, he lost credibility and standing with us all.

It’s pretty simple. Cannabis needs to be legal in Sonoma. Due process needs to be respected in Sonoma. Threats are not tolerated in Sonoma.

Pushing past Prohibition is difficult work. As the founder and CEO of the SPARC family of dispensaries, I’ve been at the forefront of the tough work of reimagining old limits. As someone who has applied for and received many licenses to grow and sell - including for another farm I hope to steward in Glen Ellen - I know that it’s not easy and it’s not cheap. I also know how rewarding it is to find the balance between community needs and community standards. Working with the process, in the spirit of the process, is how we make change possible - not with cowardly backpedaling or violent insinuations.

Cannabis will come to Sonoma - even if it’s not decided upon this November. The question is not an if, but a when and, moreover, a how. Will our dispensary be locally owned and able to provide superior Sonoma-grown products to our citizens? Will local growers be able to participate?

This gets to the core of who we really are in Sonoma. We are a town that values working respectfully within the rules and allowing democratic processes to unfold. This may be slow and sometimes clunky, but it works. We just saw it work on Aug. 7 at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The community and the Board came to an uneasy compromise that wasn’t perfect for either side, because that’s what adults do. No citizen threatened an elected official. No official tried to bury an unwanted ballot measure.

The town of Sonoma isn’t an island. It’s a vibrant community deeply connected to the county that surrounds it. Let’s not cut ourselves off from the interesting challenges that we must work on together.

Erich Pearson is the founder and CEO of SPARC, a cannabis company that farms, manufactures, distributes, and operates retail cannabis locations in San Francisco and Sonoma County. He is a founding member of the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Enthusiasts.

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