Sonoma City Council votes to study cannabis petition rather than allow a November vote
When faced with two clear paths – to approve a validated petition to legalize cannabis businesses in Sonoma, or put the measure up for a vote in November – the City Council chose the third.
At the council meeting on Monday, July 23, the cannabis petition was the major agenda item that drew a sizeable audience to the Council Chambers. Following a series of options outlined by city attorney Jeff Walter, and bypassing the choice of either approving the petition as city ordnance or putting it on the ballot for voters to decide, the council instead opted to order a 30-day, $25,000 study on the proposed ordinance, a study that would be delivered well beyond the Aug. 10 deadline for placing the measure on the November 2018 general election ballot.
The next firm opportunity for a public vote, according to Walter, would be in 2020, as there are no statewide elections scheduled in 2019.
“I’m gobsmacked,” Jon Early of Sonoma Citizens for Local Access said immediately following the meeting. It was a sentiment he elaborated upon in a subsequent conversation with the Index-Tribune. “You’ve got to expect anything, but I didn’t expect that.”
The study-and-delay option was always available to the council, but few thought it was a direction they would go, given the 60-plus percent of Sonoma voters who supported Proposition 64 to legalize adult use in 2016, and the 767 valid signatures Early collected on his petition to amend the city municipal code.
But Michael Coats, one of Early’s allies in the petition process and vice president of the new Sonoma County Cannabis Enthusiasts, said they should have seen it coming. “We thought that by turning in over 700 signatures that the will of the voter would have carried the day.
“In hindsight, if we had all done our homework better, and looked at everything that’s come before this council, we probably would have seen that the same three people are (always) voting against it,” meaning cannabis availability in Sonoma.
Those three – Gary Edwards, David Cook and Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti – formed the majority on the proposed motion to fund the study, and thus delay the inevitable election, leaving Rachel Hundley and Amy Harrington in the minority.
But the drama of the close though not unexpected votes followed over an hour of council discussion and public comment from a dozen citizens in attendance, a range of whom – Larry Barnett, Erin Carlstrom, Bill Boerum – favored the immediate acceptance of the petition as a city ordinance, without the expense or trouble of a vote.
Even such opponents as Georgia Kelly indicated support for putting it on the ballot, though she doubted that once people had a chance to evaluate the proposal it would pass. (Kelly did not support immediate adoption, as earlier misreported.)
But a relative newcomer, Phoenix Asher Featherstone, came up with a prescient perspective. “I absolutely love cannabis,” she enthused, “it has saved so many people’s lives, it has so many wonderful medical attributes.” Adding that she had been in the industry a long time as a cannabis club owner in San Francisco and a major grower, she then took a step back.
“The reason that the California legislation has allowed each city and county to determine how they want to legalize it is because there are towns this small… I think option number three is great for you, it gives you some time to make the right decision for this very small town… I encourage you to take your time, because you’re going to want to get it right.”