Press Democrat Poll finds sharp division in Sonoma County over cannabis cultivation
Sonoma County voters embraced marijuana legalization when it was on the ballot two years ago, but now that it’s a reality - a rapidly evolving industry and source of ongoing dispute - nearly half of those surveyed say they don’t want cannabis cultivation anywhere near their homes, according to The Press Democrat Poll.
A substantial plurality, 46 percent, of poll respondents said they “would not feel safe with a cannabis farm within any proximity to my residence,” while only 19 percent said they would feel safe with a farm adjacent to their residence.
Almost one-third of respondents, 31 percent, said they would feel safe with such a garden “not adjacent but within one mile of my residence.”
The telephone poll, which surveyed 500 registered county voters in the first week of May, included three cannabis-related questions, including how respondents would feel about the presence of a legal outdoor cannabis farm of 1 acre or less.
The strong not-in-my-backyard sentiment mirrors a contentious debate - tinged with fear of violent crime and resentment of intrusive pot operations - over the county’s effort to strike a balance between maintaining and taxing a burgeoning industry emerging from the shadows of prohibition and minimizing the impact on rural neighborhoods.
Residents won a major battle in December 2016 when Sonoma County supervisors rejected a staff recommendation to allow small-scale, so-called “cottage grows” in rural neighborhoods and restricted commercial cultivation to agricultural lands and large country lots.
But competing bands of cannabis backers and unhappy residents packed a board meeting as recently as April, and county staffers have drafted revised land-use rules for commercial cultivation, including some flexibility in where farms may be located.
Proposition 64, which legalized adult recreational use of marijuana and a supporting industry in November 2016, got a nod from 57 percent of California voters and 59 percent in Sonoma County, a cannabis hub set between the famed Emerald Triangle growing region and San Francisco, where 74 percent of voters supported legalization.
The Press Democrat Poll also asked respondents what impact they thought legalization would have on local crime and a majority said it either have “no effect” (40 percent) or lead to a decrease crime (18 percent), while 35 percent said it would increase crime.
Former Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas opposed Proposition 64 in 2016, contending it would lead to an increase in violent crime, and sheriff’s officials have repeatedly asserted that has proven true.
But statistics compiled by the Sheriff’s Office at The Press Democrat’s request do not bear that out. There were 16 cannabis-related home-invasion robberies in the unincorporated area, Windsor and Sonoma from 2013 through 2016, an average of four crimes a year.
In 2017 and through May 8 this year, the period since adult use became legal, there have been six such crimes.
The two deadliest cannabis crimes - a Forestville triple homicide in 2013 and a Sebastopol double fatality in 2016 - both occurred during a marijuana deal gone bad while recreational use by adults was illegal.
Zeroing in on one of the most controversial issues, The Press Democrat Poll asked respondents where they thought cannabis should be grown and more than one-third, 36 percent, said “outside, but only in agricultural areas,” a condition that somewhat matches current county regulations.
Fewer than a quarter favored “in warehouses” (23 percent) and “anywhere outside” (22 percent), while 12 percent said “all cultivation should be prohibited.”
Under Proposition 64, cities and counties have the right to regulate or ban commercial cultivation, while adults have a right to grow up to six marijuana plants per parcel indoors and local governments can only put restrictions on outdoor home gardens.
The poll results reflect a “period of adjustment” in a county becoming accustomed to the presence of cannabis as a legal commodity, said David Binder, whose San Francisco-based firm conducted the survey.
While 46 percent of respondents don’t want pot growing anywhere near them, Binder noted an almost equal number - 50 percent - feel safe with it next door (19 percent) or “not adjacent but within a mile” (31 percent).
There’s a clear division of sentiment over cannabis in that regard, but Binder pointed out that only 12 percent think all cultivation should be prohibited.
People age 65 and older were the most resistant to cultivation, with only 8 percent saying they were comfortable with it next door and 61 percent uncomfortable with it “within any proximity” of their home.