Fight looms over location of medical marijuana farms in Sonoma County
Sonoma County is putting out a welcome mat for the medical marijuana industry, but it may not be as big as the industry would like as it emerges from the legal shadows.
Under California’s new medical marijuana law, cities and counties are allowed to regulate the location of pot-growing sites and other cannabis-related businesses, which may not obtain a state license until they have secured a local land use permit.
“We’re all here this morning because we believe there’s a bright future for cannabis in our community,” county Supervisor Efren Carrillo told a crowd of about 300 cannabis industry members at a conference Friday at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa.
The county’s first draft of its Medical Cannabis Land Use Ordinance, scheduled for public review next week, would focus cultivation and other pot businesses into the county’s agricultural and commercial/industrial areas, Carrillo said.
But Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, said the proposal was too narrow. Rural residential lands and the county’s Resources and Rural Development District, which covers 30 percent of the county, should be considered for cultivation, she said.
“I think it’s an appropriate place,” she said in an interview, referring to the vast RRD district that covers mostly hilly, sparsely populated parts of the county.
Carrillo said he has heard conflicting messages from rural residents: They don’t want marijuana grown near them, but there already are numerous gardens in the county’s unincorporated area.
“That is going to be one of the areas where we are challenged the most,” said Carrillo, who sits on the county’s ad hoc medical cannabis committee with Supervisor Susan Gorin.
The proposed ordinance is “a little more conservative than I would like,” Carrillo said, suggesting there should be more flexibility in land use rules for marijuana in his west county district.
If pot growers are restricted to agricultural zones, Logan said there would likely be pressure to buy up productive farmland for conversion to marijuana cultivation. Logan previously said that 70 percent of the local cannabis grows are less than 3,000 square feet, most of them located in residential zones.
Her 200-member group, about 60 percent of whom are pot growers from Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and Marin counties, sponsored its second annual “Cultivating Community” event, nearly filling a large ballroom at the upscale hotel.
The crowd of about 300 was a bit smaller than it was a year ago but in a ritzier setting than the Sebastopol Grange, last year’s venue. Sponsors set up booths in the hotel courtyard and on a back lawn, where there also was “an outdoor 215 zone for medical patients,” organizers said, borrowing the number from Proposition 215, approved by voters in 1996, making California the first state to legalize medical marijuana.
The CBD Guild, which manufactures cannabis-infused sprays and oils, was a major sponsor of the conference, hosting a buffet lunch for the crowd. CBD’s founder, Dennis Franklin Hunter, showed video testimonials of his products’ efficacy, including one from Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams, who said he got relief from the pain of psoriatic arthritis without any fogging of his mind.
In an interview, Hunter said his Santa Rosa production facility, raided by authorities and shut down in June, will reopen in a week to 10 days.