Recreational cannabis sales in California can begin January 1, but it’s unclear whether adults thereafter will be able to legally buy marijuana for non-medical uses in Sonoma County’s largest city.
Santa Rosa’s rules for cannabis businesses have been some of the most inviting to indoor cultivators, manufacturers and other types of businesses in the county, but they don’t yet include any provisions for companies involved in for the non-medical marketplace.
That could change.
Thursday, Santa Rosa’s planning commission is set to debate whether to ask city staff to add provisions for those businesses.
“That’s on the table for discussion,” said Clare Hartman, the city’s deputy director of planning.
In Sonoma County, only Cloverdale and Sebastopol officials have so far taken steps to allow recreational cannabis operations. 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.
Sebastopol’s planning commission will consider a draft ordinance allowing recreational cannabis businesses in the city as early as Nov. 25, and the City Council in December will consider passing an urgency ordinance to allow adult-use sales at its two existing dispensaries starting Jan. 1.
Santa Rosa’s current 40-page ordinance includes temporary rules in place since early 2016, guidelines that for the first time legitimized indoor medical cannabis growers, manufacturers and other operations.
Proposed changes before commissioners Thursday would allow new types of manufacturing using volatile solvents and removing a cap on the number of dispensaries permitted in the city, Hartman said.
Dispensaries will be prohibited in certain areas, including the downtown core near Old Courthouse Square and the downtown SMART commuter train station in Railroad Square. And the city will need to develop criteria to weigh competing applications from dispensaries seeking to open shop in close proximity, something for which they’re seeking public input, Hartman said.
But Santa Rosa officials have been hesitant to codify rules for recreational cannabis companies, wanting to first enable medical marijuana businesses to take root.
As of Sept. 12, the city had approved 18 permits from cannabis companies, and an additional 33 operators have submitted preliminary or final applications. Between those 18 businesses, medical marijuana companies now occupy about 3 percent of the city’s 10.3 million square feet of industrial space.
Local cannabis industry leaders have urged the City Council to reconsider its delay in allowing non-medical cannabis businesses, arguing the city is missing out on the larger tax revenue source.
Terry Darcy, chairman of the Sonoma County chapter of the California Cannabis Industry Association, sent a letter to the council’s medical cannabis policy subcommittee warning that delaying rules for recreational cannabis companies could discourage businesses from choosing Santa Rosa and limit the city’s tax revenue potential.
“By not allowing adult use cannabis commercial activities in Santa Rosa, the City is extinguishing the ability of businesses to obtain state licenses and remain competitive in the California market,” Darcy wrote in the letter dated Sept. 1.
Hartman said the city is more likely to consider allowing adult-use companies now that the state has more clearly outlined its rules, which are nearly identical for most medical and recreational businesses.