Sebastopol becomes 2nd Sonoma County city to approve recreational cannabis sales Jan. 1
Sebastopol City Council’s marathon discussion on preliminary recreational cannabis rules ran like a roller coaster late into Tuesday night, but ultimately ended with the city becoming only the second in Sonoma County to allow existing dispensaries to sell nonmedical marijuana to adults starting Jan. 1.
The adoption of the urgency ordinance, passed unanimously with a flurry of last-minute editing and negotiations between council members, follows Cotati’s unanimous decision this past Tuesday in favor of similar regulations to comply with a state law legalizing the nonmedical cannabis trade starting next year. For both cities, the approved rules are temporary and come ahead of permanent ordinances expected to come forward early next year.
“I think we need to move forward on this,” Councilwoman Una Glass said at one point when the council considered scraping the temporary rules. “We need to not be behind the times.”
The 5-0 vote came after 9:30 p.m., more than three hours into the meeting, before an audience of at least two dozen onlookers, including residents and cannabis industry representatives.
Sebastopol’s regulations will allow its two current dispensaries, SPARC — formerly Peace in Medicine — and Solful, to sell to anyone 21 years of age or older — no longer to just those who possess a medical card. It does not, however, permit deliveries or commercial manufacturing or cultivation. Personal cultivation, under the new rules, must take place at an occupied dwelling used as a residence, with proper cooking, sleeping and sanitation facilities.
“As we’ve developed these rules over the years while I was on the council, Cotati, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County and Sebastopol all kind of moved along as a herd,” said Craig Litwin, former mayor of Sebastopol, and now of the 421 Group, a cannabis business consultancy. “Cloverdale now has joined in. And we’re doing that again — Sebastopol, Cotati, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa — we’re all moving forward.”
Also on Tuesday night, Santa Rosa’s council cast a second, formal vote approving comprehensive cannabis rules that will go into effect Jan. 19. The city’s three existing cannabis dispensaries are expected to easily transition to retail recreational sales, while new entrants are slated to navigate a tougher path to break into the market.
Other cities in the county have also begun enacting their own sets of rules.
While Cloverdale presently has no retail outlets, its council unanimously approved an ordinance in September that will allow cannabis permits and up to two future dispensaries. Commercial manufacturing, distribution and growing applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Petaluma City Council voted 6-1 in November to permit two local marijuana-delivery services, as well as businesses to produce cannabis-infused products, but not to allow dispensaries inside city limits. Until final details are established, such as the permitting process and fee structure, the city is under a moratorium on new cannabis businesses.
Not all of Sonoma County’s cities are embracing the new era of legalized recreational marijuana.
Last week, Rohnert Park unanimously broadened past rules barring commercial growing and sale of medical marijuana to the nonmedical market. And earlier in December, Sonoma extended its own moratorium — it’s third — on all cannabis trade for another 10 months ahead of eventually crafting permanent rules. Personal cultivation is unaffected, with the new voter-approved state law, Proposition 64, allowing up to six plants per residence.
Industry representatives say the new rules in cities providing early go-ahead to cannabis operators are expected to mean an increase in jobs, sales and tax revenues because of the broader group of people now allowed to take part in the nonmedical trade.
“I think it’s fantastic Sebastopol, just like it led in mid-2000s as one of the first municipalities to permit medical marijuana, will lead again,” said Eli Melrod, co-founder of Solful. “Right now estimates are that 5 to 10 percent of people have medical cards, which is a limited market everyone’s competing for. With anyone over 21 able to buy, the possibilities are kind of endless.”
Still, Sebastopol council members wrestled for hours Tuesday evening with the shape of the temporary rules and whether they should advance them at all ahead of their more in-depth deliberations next year.
“This taxed me,” said Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter after the vote. “I appreciate everyone sticking around waiting for us. That’s how the sausage is made sometimes.”
Staff Writer Kevin McCallum contributed reporting. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @kfixler.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect date for recreational marijuana sales in Santa Rosa. The corrected date is Jan. 19.