Twenty people representing cannabis business interests, real estate, schools, rural neighborhoods and other concerns were appointed Tuesday to advise the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on its rules governing the region’s emerging pot industry.
Chosen from more than 100 people who applied to join the Sonoma County Cannabis Advisory Group, the members will serve two-year terms and help the county shape and reshape its approach to governing marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and other potential businesses, from packaging to delivery.
The panel comes together about seven months after the county passed its initial rules for the industry but while the state is still marrying its laws regulating medical and recreational marijuana.
“We could have used the advisory group a year ago,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said at Tuesday’s meeting when the board voted unanimously to approve the chosen panel members.
Even though the county’s laws have been written, local rules will have to evolve to align with state laws still under draft. Starting Jan. 1, California can begin issuing medical cannabis licenses. Also in January, recreational sales can begin and marijuana consumers will start paying a 15 percent excise tax.
The county ordinance, as well as regulations for the city of Santa Rosa, deal only with medical marijuana with nothing written yet to regulate the adult-use industry.
One of the key issues of debate in Sonoma County is where cannabis cultivation and production belong.
Industry and medical-use advocates have decried the county’s decision in December to ban commercial cultivation in large swaths of unincorporated Sonoma County, excluding the 31,383 land parcels in the county’s two rural residential zones. The move came after some rural residents banded together to advocate keeping commercial production out of these areas.
A half-dozen newly appointed members of the panel present for the vote Tuesday said finding ways to include cannabis cultivators in those areas was a priority in joining the advisory group.
“I’m representing the cottage cultivators, those who live in the agricultural residential and rural residential neighborhoods,” Sonoma County resident Julie Terry said. “We need to find solutions for them.”
As a voice for rural neighborhoods, Richard Gunderson, a geologist who lives in west Santa Rosa off Fulton Road, said he joined the panel in order to advocate to keep commercial cultivation out of residential areas. Gunderson said he supports medical marijuana, and has seen how it benefited an ailing relative, but doesn’t believe commercial production belongs in neighborhoods, even rural ones.
“I’m just anxious to make sure the perspective of the rural homeowner is part of the process,” Gunderson said.
Other members of the Sonoma County Cannabis Advisory Group outside the cannabis industry include a family physician, a Sonoma County school and court liaison, and a real estate company partner.
Committee member Alexa Garcia, chief executive officer of cannabis delivery company Luma California, said she wants to help shape policies allowing for delivery services like hers, which have only recently been folded into state rules. The county only allows dispensaries to deliver cannabis.
Garcia said her company has an appointment in August to apply for a cultivation permit with the county. They had an indoor site in a rural residential area which they shut down once the area was excluded from the county ordinance, she said.
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