Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday voted to allow recreational sales to begin at marijuana dispensaries as early as mid-November and limited most pot-growing farms to properties at least 10 acres or larger.
The size requirement eliminates more than 5,100 properties previously eligible for cannabis cultivation, county staff said.
This action and other rules for the newly regulated cannabis industry are the latest in a series of amendments to the ordinance governing marijuana cultivation, sales, production and other commercial activities outside city limits. This process began nearly two years ago to establish local regulations for a cannabis industry that previously operated either in the black market or under the state’s loosely defined medical marijuana laws.
But the most pressing issue that emerged during Tuesday’s meeting was not on the agenda for county supervisors to consider: A newly proposed cannabis cultivation project near a portion of the West County Regional Trail in Graton. The proposal drew about two dozen residents from the unincorporated community north of Sebastopol who expressed outrage by the prospect of a large marijuana farm in the bucolic community and adjacent to the regional park bicycle thoroughfare.
“It’s the scale and location of the operation I’m opposed to,” said Joe Howard, a resident on Railroad Street, a dead-end lane where the project is proposed. “I voted for cultivation in Sonoma County where appropriate.”
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she was surprised to learn setbacks required between cannabis operations and parks don’t apply to the county’s trail system for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“Sometimes applications bring up policy concerns and we can address that through policy solutions,” Hopkins said.
The outcry echoed complaints from other areas of the county where people establishing cannabis farms — in the open for the first time — are met with neighbors balking at the smell and public safety considerations that come with the plant, still illegal under federal law.
Supervisor David Rabbitt echoed his previous view that the county should stop accepting cannabis business applications until they establish clear criteria for evaluating whether a marijuana farm is appropriate for each specific location, with special consideration given to neighbors. His fellow board members have not supported his previous motion to do so.
“We should do it right and do it once,” Rabbitt said.
Residents with complaints about cannabis in their areas told supervisors the rules don’t effectively handle their concerns such as the proximity of cannabis to homes, effects on water resources and habitats. And some speakers Tuesday suggested marijuana shouldn’t be grown outdoors at all.
Sebastopol-area resident Robert Guthrie told the board he’s frustrated they have not established rules to protect residents like him from commercial pot-growing outfits. Guthrie held up a respirator mask he said he uses about every time he’s outside in his yard.
“This is my sixth time presenting in front of you,” Guthrie said. “And I see no progress whatsoever.”
Omar Figureroa, a Sebastopol-area resident and cannabis industry lawyer, said limiting cannabis operations to properties 10 acres or larger is a considerable step toward addressing those concerns.
“This is a tremendous concession to neighborhood groups,” Figueroa said. “It shows how responsive staff is to resident concerns.”