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Valley Forum: Sonoma would support second dispensary

First, thanks to former Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown and his late wife Jewel Mathieson for their years of advocacy for patients’ rights to safe, legal medical cannabis. They were the inspiration to form our 200-plus member Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group over three years ago. Since then, we have actively engaged the community and city government to help bring a cannabis dispensary to Sonoma.

Now that the mission has been realized, we also thank the Sonoma City Council for leaning forward on this issue. They’ve helped define Sonoma as a city of progressive values and a pacesetter in Sonoma County.

Recently, some council members expressed support to permit one additional walk-in dispensary with delivery service. We agree, and believe there are a number of reasons why this would be in the best interest of medical patients, adult consumers and the city.

Of course, there are arguments against allowing an additional dispensary in Sonoma.

Some suggest that a second dispensary should be outside the city limits, perhaps in Boyes Hot Springs or in the Fetters Hot Springs or Agua Caliente neighborhoods. However, establishing a dispensary in this area has been tried before and history shows that county politics makes any outlet along the Springs Highway 12 corridor very unlikely.

Others assert that “one is enough” for such a small city, but this presumption fails on two counts. First, the consulting firm advising the city placed the total population of Sonoma and surrounding area at a little over 25,000, and would likely support no more than two retailers. Though the consultant’s findings support a second dispensary, we believe it underestimated the population total. If we include everyone who resides in the entire “service area,” from Schellville to Glen Ellen, the total is really 40,000-45,000 residents. After adjusting the numbers, it’s clear we can support at least two retailers.

Secondly, permitting only one dispensary amounts to a city-sponsored monopoly. The argument is made that no monopoly exists because residents are already served by cannabis delivery businesses. We’ll leave it to the lawyers to define "monopoly," but no matter how one looks at it, permitting only one walk-in dispensary is coercive. It limits residents' ability to take advantage of a fairer, more competitive environment with little concern for what the people really need or want. Our patient community especially needs access to the widest choice of cannabis products possible to relieve serious and chronic symptoms.

Competition is a healthy part of any industry. A competitive market results in better prices, more product choices and innovative services. That's what the free market is all about, isn't it?

A second dispensary will also provide more jobs, greater tax revenue and additional community benefits. And, considering that tourism is Sonoma's life blood, cannabis tourists will only further strengthen our city’s financial health.

Permitting one additional dispensary provides us an opportunity to improve access to essential services, grant more consumer choice and effect positive economic impact on the local economy. In this scenario, everybody wins, the city and consumers.

The Sonoma City Council is potentially going to address this issue at its Jan. 20 meeting at 6 pm. We invite everyone to view and participate or send an email in support to citycouncil@sonomacity.org.

Gil Latimer is the founder of the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group and a longtime advocate for medicinal cannabis. Visit sonomavalleycannabisgroup.com.

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