Healdsburg tentatively OKs allowing cannabis dispensaries within city limits

At its regular meeting Monday, the Healdsburg City Council preliminarily approved an end to the city’s moratorium on commercial cannabis operations.|

It’s been five years since recreational marijuana use was permitted under California law, but a few Sonoma County municipalities still prohibit dispensaries within city limits.

Healdsburg might soon disappear from that list of exclusionary cities.

At its regular meeting Monday, the Healdsburg City Council preliminarily approved an end to the city’s moratorium on commercial cannabis operations, which would pave a path for two dispensaries — and potentially future consumption lounges.

The Council reached a 3-0 consensus in its first vote on the matter — a second vote will be held April 17 — with Mayor Ariel Kelley and Council member Chris Herrod absent.

“It took us a long time to get to this point,” Council member Evelyn Mitchell said during the meeting.

Cannabis growers, a cannabis industry lawyer and others involved in the local industry spoke Monday in support of the city’s move to authorize commercial cannabis. Advocates asked the city also consider establishing a minimum distance between dispensaries to avoid concentration in one area and to allow consumption lounges, where recreational cannabis can be used in a public setting.

Others suggested the council also allow dispensaries to operate in mixed-use zoning, which could allow operators to live near the businesses.

“I’m not quite ready for the consumption lounge. I think it would be a heavy lift and difficult for our community to accept,” Mitchell said. “So I think we should start with our dispensaries.”

The Council said details on housing and distances would be considered during the application process, but allowing for open consumption at lounges would be something to consider in the future.

“We’re one of the last to get dispensaries. I think at some point, maybe,” Council member Ron Edwards said of allowing for consumption lounges.

The city plans to allow for two dispensaries, and some have already shown interest.

Assistant City Manager Andrew Sturmfels sought the Council’s feedback on the ensuing application process.

Though applications are slated to be released in May, Sturmfels said he is looking to make a few decisions before officially confirming the application release date.

“As we move along we’ll keep the public informed on the timeline for issuing that,” he said. The city website’s newly added cannabis page will be updated accordingly, he said.

Sturmfels proposed application fees of either $10,060 or $19,680, to offset city costs associated with the program’s development.

He did not recommend instituting an annual regulatory fee, which would also recover ongoing costs connected to program management.

Multiple public commenters asked the Council to consider a lower fee structure.

“The lower the rate, the broader the range of applicants we could have,” Edwards said, raising equity concerns where higher fees could limit those seeking to apply.

Hagele and Mitchell agreed that a lower fee would be better.

Staff will return with a proposed application fee April 17 and will also bring application fees for other cannabis businesses for City Council’s consideration at a later date, Sturmfels said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or jennifer.sawhney@pressdemocrat.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.