Santa Rosa City Council approves comprehensive cannabis rules

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Santa Rosa approved a sweeping set of cannabis regulations Tuesday governing how and where residents and businesses will be able to grow, buy, sell and smoke marijuana in the city, whether for medical purposes or for the wave of recreational uses expected to transform the state in 2018.

The move continues the city’s two-year-long effort to establish itself as a welcoming city to the cannabis industry as it transitions out of the shadows and now finds itself on the cusp of a regulated legal market not just for the ill but for all adults over age 21.

“We are the closest urban jurisdiction to the Emerald Triangle, and it is incredibly important for us to be able to receive, process and distribute the products from that region into the rest of the state,” Nick Caston, chief strategy officer at Pacific Expeditors, told the council in urging them to take action.

The ordinance, if approved at a second reading, is expected to take effect Jan. 19. The city’s three existing dispensaries are likely to be able to make the switch to selling marijuana to adults by then. New operators will take longer.

The City Council voted 5-1 to approve the new rules, with Councilman John Sawyer voting against it only because he worried about neighbors’ odor concerns.

Staff had suggested allowing residents to grow up to six plants outdoors per home, but that allowance was reduced to two plants per parcel. The balance of four plants can still be grown indoors.

Sawyer felt that even those two plants, which have no size restrictions, could still pose enough of a nuisance for neighbors offended by the pungent odors, especially at harvest time.

The bulk of the rules passed Tuesday dealt with commercial cannabis regulations that have largely been hashed out through interim permitting processes that approved commercial growing, manufacturing and support uses such as testing and distribution, in February 2016.

To date, the city has approved 18 medical cannabis permits, and has 33 more pending. The approved permits, most of which are for manufacturing and cultivation, represent 3 percent of the industrial space in the city.

To prevent overconcentration of such businesses, none would be allowed within 600 feet of another retail facility, or within 600 feet of a K-12 school. City staff had suggested 1,000 feet but several industry advocates argued that would unnecessarily reduce the number of potential retail cannabis locations.

The new rules for adult use would dramatically broaden the number of places in the city where stores selling cannabis for recreation use could be located.

While there are three existing medical cannabis dispensaries in the city, there could be dozens of additional pot shops soon. The city expects to begin accepting applications in March, with the first permits granted after April. They will be allowed in industrial areas and many commercial areas of the city, except for downtown. Nor will they be allowed around the city’s two rail stations, or in the zoning district for vehicle sales.

No drive-thru locations will be allowed, either, and hours will be restricted from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Deliveries will be allowed, as will deliveries for businesses with a storefront.

Existing dispensaries will likely be able to tweak their current permits, allowing them to being selling to any adult in short order.

Unlike Cotati, which Tuesday passed its ordinance to take effect Jan. 1, Santa Rosa will not get its rules in place by then, when legal recreational sales will go into effect in jurisdictions that have approved sales of marijuana.

The immediate cost of regulating the industry for the city is expected to be $913,000 this year and $1.1 million next year.

The city also estimates it will receive $3.2 million in revenue annually, including $2.5 million in taxes, plus another $700,000 in permit fees.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or

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