Sonoma pushes public vote on marijuana initiative back to 2020 ballot

SONOMA - The Sonoma City Council postponed for two years a public vote on a citizen-initiated measure that would have allowed cannabis businesses in the town known for wine.

The measure will not go before voters until November 2020 - two years later than advocates had sought - following a split vote by the City Council to approve a 30-day study on the initiative, effectively dooming it to miss a deadline to place measures on the upcoming Nov. 6 ballot.

Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti, acknowledging that she was about to cast the tie-breaking vote, sided with Councilmen David Cook and Gary Edwards in opting for the study. It is expected to cost $15,000 to $20,000, one of three options the council had in responding to the measure that qualified for a public vote via a petition that gained a total of 767 valid voter signatures.

Councilwomen Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley, who favored putting the measure to a public vote in November, voted against the motion.

Harrington’s motion to cap the cost of the study at $10,000 failed by the same 3-2 vote.

The study would assess such issues as the fiscal impact of allowing marijuana enterprises in town, its effect on land use and consistency with city planning policies.

The proposed ballot measure, drafted by a group called Sonoma Citizens for Local Access, would allow commercial cultivation, processing, manufacture, distribution, transportation, testing and sale of cannabis to adults age 21 and older.

Sonoma city code currently allows only cannabis delivery by licensed medical delivery services.

The city has received only one application for a distribution license, City Manager Cathy Capriola said. The city also allows residents to grow up to three plants for personal use.

Jon Early, who spearheaded the ballot measure, said he was “really, really surprised” by the council’s vote.

“I’m gobsmacked,” Early said in an interview. “It’s a delay tactic to prevent us from getting what the voters want. It serves no purpose.”

Early acknowledged his interest in opening a dispensary in Sonoma, and he told the council the proposed measure would allow dispensaries on 10 properties.

Early also supported the idea of the city, in a separate action, setting a tax on cannabis businesses.

Cook commended Early for his effort, noting that “this cannabis issue is moving very quickly.” He said he wanted to postpone the public vote “to make sure we make the right decision.”

Edwards expressed skepticism about the size of the so-called economic green rush from legalized marijuana and said he thinks large companies will dominate the industry.

Hundley, who said she has been pushing for a dispensary in Sonoma for three years, said she wanted the proposed measure to go on the November ballot. The council could consider drafting a competing measure, she said.

Harrington said she supports having a dispensary in town, adding that she doesn’t think “Mr. Early’s ballot measure is great.”

“I don’t care for the way it’s drafted,” she said, but indicated she wants to leave the decision up to voters. She also supported placement of a competing measure on the November ballot.

Opting for the study precludes a November vote, City Attorney Jeff Walter said. The 30-day study period would run past the Aug. 10 deadline set by the county registrar of voters for submitting measures for the vote this fall.

The next opportunity to put it on the ballot would be November 2020, he said.

During the public hearing, Larry Barnett said that a Sebastopol dispensary had paid $250,000 a year in taxes.

“Money in this town is tight,” he said. “You’re looking at an opportunity to generate more revenue.”

Bill Boerum urged the council to put the measure to a vote in November to “give the people of Sonoma what they have shown they want.”

Virgina Baker said she thought it “seems like Mr. Early is trying to railroad something through.”

Cannabis commerce will “bring a lot of problems. A lot of drifters coming and going,” she said.

Jack Wagner, who said he grew up in Sonoma, said he wished the city had already allowed marijuana enterprises so “citizens could get full rights under 64,” a reference to the legalization of recreational marijuana approved by voters.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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