Cotati approves adult pot sales, Rohnert Park bans all commercial distribution
Shortly after Rohnert Park’s City Council unanimously adopted Sonoma County’s strictest commercial cannabis rules to date, Cotati’s decided to go the opposite direction Tuesday night and become the first city in the county to allow the sale of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1.
The Cotati City Council approved the urgency ordinance 5-0 to allow its lone dispensary, Mercy Wellness, to begin selling to all adults older than 21 next month, complying with a new state law legalizing nonmedical use and sales.
“We can anticipate people waiting there the day we can sell adult-use products,” said Brandon Levine, executive director of Mercy Wellness, believing it could instantly result in a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in customers. “There’s going to be some changes we have to make to direct the flow of traffic and people coming in the door. We’re excited for this new group of people to come in and to be able to serve them.”
Meanwhile, in neighboring Rohnert Park, the city firmly shut the door on the possibility of manufacturing, distributing or selling marijuana within city limits. The 5-0 vote updated a prior city ordinance adopted in early 2016 to more explicitly prohibit outdoor growing in accessory units, and keep personal cultivation to areas that cannot exceed 100 total square feet and plants taller than 10 feet.
“We basically decided when the medical marijuana issue came up that we weren’t interested in being involved in cannabis,” outgoing Mayor Jake Mackenzie said. “I don’t think this was particularly on any moral basis — it was frankly that we see it as something that is very difficult to enforce.”
California voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016 to allow adults to possess and use nonmedical marijuana, as well as for each resident to grow up to six plants for personal use. Tied to the legislation was the ability of cities to control, regulate and tax this form of cannabis separate from that previously permitted for medical purposes.
Rohnert Park made quick work of its new ordinance, waiving a second reading of the proposed rules in a matter of minutes. Given input from residents regarding odor concerns and the alternative accessibility in the region coming down the pike, the council felt it had a clear mandate.
“We got a lot of feedback from the people in the community,” said incoming Mayor Pam Stafford. “And our community didn’t want to expand more so than we are required by law to do. I’m fine with the law, I’m fine with people doing it, but I’d rather see it be out away from where everybody is living.”
Pro-cannabis advocates questioned the decision, calling it shortsighted, against the will of California voters, and a missed opportunity for job growth and economic development. They said the added limitation in Rohnert Park preventing residents from outdoor greenhouse cultivation using natural light rather than hydroponic equipment indoors was less environmentally friendly.
“The fact that they’re continuing to ban commercial activity as a whole is very unfortunate,” said Nick Caston, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association’s Sonoma County chapter. “There’s so much commercial space there that could be fully utilized by the industry and would provide a stronger economic foundation for Rohnert Park if they were to consider it. It would be beneficial for everyone.”
But council members said they weren’t convinced by arguments of expanded tax bases in light of other plans for business growth, as well as potential issues around allowing marijuana commercial enterprise and distribution. The decision, Mackenzie said, was “deliberately done.”
“We didn’t feel that it was likely to be so important to us here in Rohnert Park,” he said. “We have other economic development activities that are going on — we just got Bear Republic here, we’re getting a new hotel and we’ve got the downtown project coming.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @kfixler.