Tired of living in the shadows, Santa Rosa’s medical cannabis industry asked to be regulated.
Last week the city obliged, releasing 36 pages of rules, restrictions, prohibitions and permitting requirements governing how previously underground operators will be allowed to do business in Sonoma County’s largest city.
The highly anticipated draft of the city’s comprehensive medical cannabis ordinance is expected to generate significant feedback from an industry both excited by the opportunities cannabis legalization provides and anxious about the burden excessive taxation and regulation may bring.
City staff consider the draft ordinance one of the state’s most lenient, allowing most types of operators to locate in the city with as few restrictions as necessary.
“Unlike other jurisdictions, I think we have a uniquely permissive ordinance,” said Clare Hartman, the city’s deputy director of planning.
She noted that with the exception of outdoors cannabis cultivators, the city welcomes a range of medical cannabis businesses, including indoor growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and testing labs, under various restrictions meant to limit the impact on neighbors.
Those restrictions range from the mundane, such as rules dictating the number of parking spaces required for specific types of cannabis businesses, to more consequential regulations barring marijuana sales within 600 feet of schools.
One key provision of the new rules is the city is allowing only medical cannabis businesses, not any catering to adult recreational pot use, which voters approved in November. Proposition 64 allowed local jurisdictions to restrict recreational-use businesses, and the three-member subcommittee made it clear it wasn’t as open to that activity as 57 percent of state voters.
The city also is proposing to bar dispensaries from downtown, as well as around the city’s two SMART stations — two areas where the city hopes to focus future residential growth. Those prohibitions largely stem from the fact the city’s existing dispensary ordinance, which capped the number of dispensaries at two, also barred dispensaries from the downtown zone. The subcommittee viewed that 2005 ordinance as a success and wanted to stay with that prohibition, Hartman said.
Another key element of the draft is limitations meant to prevent an overconcentration of dispensaries in any particular neighborhood.
In addition to being restricted to a handful of commercial and industrial zones, the ordinance creates a 1,000-foot buffer zone around any existing dispensary, preventing any other dispensary from setting up shop in that zone, Hartman said.
The goal was to address concerns about overconcentration without creating an arbitrary cap on the number of dispensaries in the city, she said, but the reality is the city is unlikely to approve more than 20 dispensaries.
The city already has approved use permits for medical cannabis businesses at 11 locations to date, and received applications for about 13 others, according to the city.
The draft included feedback from virtually every city department and three committees, Hartman said. The city’s technical committee on cannabis alone had more than 20 members, and the City Council’s three-member subcommittee took public input on various cannabis rules 17 times, she said.
“Government rarely gets things right the first time,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, a member of the subcommittee. “I think this is a really, really good first attempt at it.”