Will Sonoma merge onto the ‘inhalation superhighway’?

The Sonoma Patient Group


“Other locales have done this”… the “city is grievously behind the curve”… “it’s time for the City of Sonoma to catch up”…

These were just a few of the “if other towns are doing why can’t we?” observations from the Dec. 4 Sonoma City Council meeting when city officials approved a 10-month extension of the current moratoria on commercial sales and outdoor cultivation of cannabis.

Since Sonoma now has more than enough time to waft the lingering plumes from other regions before settling on a firm ordinance, we hope city officials are paying close attention -- as several North Bay municipalities this week rushed to formalize plans for the world of legal pot before commercial-cannabis activity gets the greenlight statewide Jan. 2.

On Tuesday, the City of Belvedere -- another 2-plus square mile “island” with a wealthy, aging population (think Sonoma on steroids) – voted to allow delivery of recreational marijuana when legalization takes effect, with Belvedere Mayor Marty Winter pointing out that it “wasn’t long ago that UPS even couldn’t deliver wine – we’re evolving, things are changing.”

Things won’t be changing quite as much in Rohnert Park, however, as that town’s City Council voted 5-0 this week to prohibit all commercial cannabis activity in the city – with critics of the tight regulations pointing out the irony of the town known for hosting many of the chains and big-box stores not welcome in other cities, yet banning the sale of even medicinal marijuana. In the 94927 zip code, it’s Starbucks, yes; Sensi Star, no.

San Rafael – the “urban” seat of Marin – finally ended its policy of continual moratoriums last week and voted to begin licensing businesses for medical-cannabis delivery.

Meanwhile, the Cotati City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to allow Mercy Wellness, the town’s already-in-operation medical marijuana dispensary, to begin selling recreational pot after the New Year.

And the City of Santa Rosa went not one, but several steps further when it voted this week to allow its three existing medical dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis Jan. 2, with potentially dozens more on the way after the city begins granting new permits in the spring. Not only that, but Santa Rosa became one of the few thus far to allow outdoor cultivation – a limit of two plants of any size – in addition to its four allowable indoor plants.

Of course, the County of Sonoma has been cultivating its own regulations since voters approved Proposition 64 more than a year ago. Not only will the County issue permits for recreational cannabis manufacturers, testing labs, distributors and dispensaries, it issued its first cannabis cultivation permit last week allowing the Fiddlers Green farm near Sebastopol to grow up to 10,000 square feet of the herb.

Sonoma’s been notoriously slow in settling on a direction to take on the Inhalation Superhighway, but the Council this month agreed to community discussions as to the viability of a potential medical marijuana dispensary in town – with all five council members conveying various levels of support/queasiness at the prospect. It remains to be seen as to whether this particular Council will fully embrace what Councilmember Amy Harrington – the most vocal dispensary supporter on the council – reminds us received the approval of more than 60 percent of Sonomans.

What is clear, however, is that other communities are making these tough decisions with expedience and (mostly) full-council consensus.

As former Councilmember Laurie Gallian implored her old council colleagues last week, take this issue off the “to-do list.”

“You can learn from the past,” said Gallian, who shared her regrets that the council didn’t approve a dispensary when it first came before the council in 2009. “I am looking for great civil discourse on this particular issue and a decision as rapidly as possible.

“We can be leaders,” said Gallian. “(And show that) the City of Sonoma does lead in Sonoma County.”

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