Sonoma County supervisors approve contentious Petaluma cannabis farm
One of the most hotly contested new cannabis farms proposed in Sonoma County received approval from the Board of Supervisors this week, marking a significant victory long sought by local marijuana growers trying to gain a foothold in the new legal market.
A majority of supervisors voted to allow Petaluma Hills Farm to cultivate about 1 acre of cannabis on a former chicken ranch on rural Purvine Road in west Petaluma’s windswept dairy lands. A half-acre can be grown outside, another half-acre can be cultivated in a greenhouse and indoors and the majority of the 37-acre parcel must be used for other types of agriculture, currently cattle grazing.
The decision is likely to trigger a legal challenge from a group of neighbors who have opposed the project since it was proposed nearly three years ago. They have also tried to halt marijuana cultivation there by suing Petaluma Hills Farm and its founder, Sam Magruder.
“This is a huge win for all growers,” said Magruder, the property owner who started Petaluma Hills Farm. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I’m excited the county has trusted us to show how cannabis can be grown in Sonoma County.”
Finding a place for commercial cannabis farms has been the greatest challenge of legalization in Sonoma County. The county’s rules call for marijuana cultivation to get out of ecologically sensitive areas and rural residential neighborhoods and onto larger agricultural lands.
But some in agricultural communities do not welcome the new industry. They have rallied regularly at meetings, wearing red clothing and hats to identify themselves. In response, local marijuana advocates have showed up wearing green.
The tension can be seen on Purvine Road, a narrow rural lane in Two Rock valley where several neighbors have posted large signs reading “No Pot on Purvine” to their fences. The slogan is both their mission and the name of a nonprofit they formed to organize their legal campaign.
Monday, the supervisors rejected their appeal to an April approval of the project by county zoning officials, which brought the issue to the board to decide. Neighbors pleaded with supervisors to vote against the project and side with their concerns that it could change their community by attracting crime and bringing the strong odor of marijuana to their backyards.
“The cannabis ordinance forgot about the families who will be living next to these facilities,” said Britt Jensen, whose family home is just over 600 feet from the proposed site of the outdoor cannabis plot.
But four of five supervisors agreed the agricultural setting and large size of the property was ideal for cannabis cultivation, noting the proposal was thorough and included a well-designed security plan. Supervisor James Gore said the size of the property combined with its location in an active ranching area — characterized by strong odors of manure and ducks and other livestock — made it an ideal location.
“It’s agriculture in my mind, no matter how we classify it,” said Gore, referring to the technical definition of cannabis as an agricultural product and not a crop.
Magruder will be required to meet nearly 200 conditions in order to put plants in the ground, including planting hedges, trees and other natural screens to block any view of cannabis plants from the Jensen home. The permit to cultivate has a five-year term.