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Sebastopol City Council set to decide whether to allow recreational cannabis retail by January

(FILE PHOTO) The SPARC dispensary for medical marijuana in Sebastopol. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

JULIE JOHNSON,

Sebastopol could become the first place in Sonoma County to establish local rules governing the recreational cannabis trade, allowing adults without recommendations to buy marijuana by next year.

City Council members Tuesday will consider putting draft rules for the non-medical marketplace on a fast track in preparation for January when recreational cannabis sales can begin across the state.

Adults have been able to lawfully possess and consume certain amounts of marijuana — without a medical recommendation — since November 2016 when voters passed Prop. 64. The next phase begins in 2018 when commerce and production outside of the medicinal market can commence.

“That’s the right thing to do, that’s what the voters wanted, that’s what they expect,” said Erich Pearson, executive director of SPARC, which operates Sebastopol’s original medical marijuana dispensary, formerly called Peace in Medicine, on Sebastopol Avenue near downtown.

It’s up to each city and county in the state to devise rules for how the marijuana industry takes shape in its borders, or to ban it altogether. The state retains the authority to hand out a licenses for businesses in places without local rules, according to said Kenyon Webster, Sebastopol’s planning director.

That provision is driving local governments to get their own rules on the books so that they can craft laws that make sense for the communities.

“It allows a fine-grain analysis and review of applications for these types of businesses with the knowledge that local people bring,” Webster said.

The City Council could decide to move forward with an urgency ordinance putting temporary rules in place as early as the Dec. 19 meeting, and then come back in 2018 to consider a permanent ordinance.

Or council members could wait, forgo the rush to put rules in place by January, and instead choose to review and revise the Planning Commission’s comprehensive cannabis ordinance, currently in draft form, over the next several months.

Operators of Sebastopol’s two medical marijuana dispensaries say they plan to expand operations to include recreational cannabis sales as soon as it’s allowed in the city. They must first get a state license, and both businesses are poised to apply.

“We think it would be great for the city of Sebastopol and residents of west county who overwhelmingly supported adult use,” said Eli Melrod, who in November opened Sebastopol’s second dispensary, Solful, at a storefront one block south of Sonoma West Medical Center on Gravenstein Highway South. “It would allow us to serve more folks, hire more folks.”

Santa Rosa is poised to be the next city to consider whether to get rules in place by January. The City Council on Dec. 12 is expected to review the Planning Commission’s recommendation they adopt a comprehensive set of rules allowing nonmedical cannabis sales and other business operations.

Delaying the ability of cannabis businesses to engage in the recreational cannabis marketplace could discourage companies from choosing to open in Santa Rosa and limit the city’s tax revenue potential, Terry Darcy, chairman of the Sonoma County chapter of the California Cannabis Industry Association, said in a letter sent to the City Council’s medical cannabis policy subcommittee.

Cloverdale is the other jurisdiction in Sonoma County that’s passed measures to prepare for the onset of recreational sales in January. The Cloverdale City Council voted in September to allow manufacturers, cultivators and other non-storefront businesses in the city’s small industrial zones and to allow two dispensaries. Currently, no dispensaries exist in the city.

Sebastopol’s City Council will meet 6 p.m. Tuesday in the youth annex of the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, 425 Morris Street.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.