Sonoma County supervisors may extend cannabis business incentive program

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider extending an incentive program meant to coax cannabis businesses into the regulated market with a new proposal aimed at giving existing operators more time to avoid certain costs of legitimizing their operations.

The county’s “penalty relief program” removed expensive land use-related fines that would otherwise be levied against marijuana cultivators and other related businesses already working in unincorporated areas of the county, but only for those who applied by Aug. 31.

Industry players have been calling for an extension for months, warning the timeline was too short because of the hefty requirements to apply for a county permit, including environmental reports done by consultants. An extension of the program was also one of the first suggestions made by members of a new county-appointed cannabis advisory board.

Since July 5, when the county began accepting applications from cannabis businesses and the Aug. 31 deadline, about 115 entities have filed documents. Most of those are cultivators, and most applied for the penalty relief program, according to cannabis program manager Tim Ricard.

The number still pales compared to the estimated 5,000 growers in the county, a number derived from surveys done by the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.

Supervisors Susan Gorin and Lynda Hopkins, who comprise the ad hoc committee developing draft cannabis policies, put forward the recommendation, announced Friday, to retroactively extend the penalty relief program, splitting it into two phases with an initial one-page document required by Oct. 31 followed by a full application no later than June 1, 2018.

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