Cannabis retailers multiplying in Santa Rosa, with objections raised by schools, rival projects

The City Council is set to weigh in on appeals covering four cannabis dispensary projects, with proposals for a dozen more retail sites in the works.|

Nine applications for new cannabis dispensaries in Santa Rosa have been approved in the past three months - an expansion that would nearly quadruple the city’s current number of marijuana retailers, with proposals for a dozen more cannabis outlets also in the pipeline.

The wave of activity comes as the city is poised to revisit its year-old rules for governing the cannabis trade, and as appeals against new marijuana businesses have started to stack up.

The challenges have been filed in one case, by Santa Rosa City Schools, the largest district in Sonoma County, as well as by aspiring cannabis retailers whose projects were rejected at lower levels by city representatives.

Santa Rosa City Schools has appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of a permit for a dispensary at 1128 Sonoma Ave., about 685 feet west of the Santa Rosa French-American Charter School, at Sonoma Avenue and Doyle Park Drive. Santa Rosa’s rules ban dispensaries within 600 feet of schools.

“If there ever could be a time when a project could be more than 600 feet from a school but still too close to grant a (conditional use permit), this would be that time,” Superintendent Diann Kitamura wrote in a December appeal letter to the City Council.

The dispensary is a project of NorCal Cannabis Co., an ambitious Santa Rosa-based holding company with stakes in cultivation, manufacturing and retail operations. A representative for the company’s proposed BKind dispensary on Sonoma Avenue previously told the city that it was “committed to compliance with local and state regulations,” and was “ready to expeditiously develop a first-rate cannabis dispensary in Santa Rosa that will contribute to the local economy and community,” according to documents filed with the city.

BKind planned to donate to a nonprofit or community projects four times a year, host workshops to educate people about cannabis and prioritize local vendors and products.

But the expansion of the now-legalized cannabis industry is also coming up against entrenched opposition from neighbors concerned about related impacts, including traffic and public safety issues. For manufacturing and cultivation sites, odor also has been a prevalent issue.

Proximity of cannabis operations to school sites is also a growing concern in Santa Rosa.

The BKind dispute is set to go before the council Feb. 26. Also next month, the council is set to hear appeals from three commercial cannabis applicants whose projects were not advanced by city representatives. They are contesting the selection of rival projects.

By the end of this month, Santa Rosa is set to release a comprehensive report on the growth, current and future governance of the cannabis industry within the city. That review could include steps to allow the proliferation of even more retail outlets.

None of the nine new dispensaries approved by the Planning Commission to sell cannabis for recreational adult use haven’t opened yet, said Clare Hartman, deputy director of planning. Most if not all of those openings are set for this year.

The expansion gives regulated marijuana sales within the city a significantly larger footprint. Currently, sales are limited to three dispensaries that previously offered medical cannabis products and then joined the legalized recreational market when it opened last January for consumers 21 and up. One of those dispensaries is moving and was among the group of nine recently approved retail sites.

When Santa Rosa’s cannabis rules were approved in December 2017, the city expected to receive about $3.2 million in revenue annually, include $2.5 million in taxes, from the newly regulated and taxed industry.

Based on current collections, it is likely to come up far short of that mark.

City cannabis tax revenue was about $254,000 from July through September, according to city chief financial officer Chuck McBride, who said updated revenue information would be prepared before the Jan. 31 meeting.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @wsreports.

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