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Sonoma City Council strengthens regulations on pot cultivation, dispensaries

With a looming state deadline to enact local regulations on marijuana, Sonoma city officials strengthened their ban on pot dispensaries, delivery services and cultivation.

Council members Monday night unanimously approved a resolution that asserts the city’s existing prohibition on marijuana, this time specifically spelling it out in its regulations. The decision comes at the heels of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October.

The law calls for state licensing of pot growers, manufacturers and dispensaries. However, it also gives cities and counties control over marijuana cultivation permits, as long as they impose local regulations by the March 1 cutoff.

“It’s clarifying what is already in the books,” City Manager Carol Giovanatto said about the resolution council members approved Monday. “It’s not changing anything.”

Growing, delivering and dispensing cannabis always has been prohibited in town, she said. Sonoma doesn’t have a single dispensary, Giovanatto added.

While growing and selling medical marijuana are not listed as “banned,” she said the city has always considered any activity prohibited if it is not mentioned in the development code as a permitted use.

The League of California Cities urged municipalities like Sonoma with “permissive zoning regulations” to clearly state whether or not the city allows dispensaries and the growth of marijuana for personal and commercial use ahead of the state deadline, Giovanatto said. That ensures the municipalities maintain local control on marijuana cultivation.

“All we’re doing is protecting our local authority from the state,” Councilman David Cook said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The laws are changing. I just want the city of Sonoma to have a voice in what’s going on within its borders.”

While he and the rest of the council members voted to strengthen the regulations, they weren’t ready to shut the door on the issue. They promised to bring back for future discussion marijuana delivery and dispensaries, which previous council members attempted to allow six years ago but failed after they couldn’t garner enough votes.

Last year, 18 dispensaries in Sonoma County sold nearly $31 million in marijuana-related products and paid $2.6 million in taxes, according to the state Board of Equalization, which collects retail sales data.

“This is a cottage industry for a lot of people,” Mayor Laurie Gallian said during Monday’s meeting. “I’m open to this conversation.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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