CA: Sonoma City Council – Back Yard Cannabis OK, Dispensary No Way

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Sonoma’s cannabis-consumption future is coming into focus.

The Sonoma City Council, at its May 30 “special” meeting to consider marijuana regulations, voted to allow for the personal cultivation of a limited number of outdoor plants – but stamped down on the idea of an in-town cannabis dispensary.

The votes on cultivation and storefront dispensaries – the former 3-2 in favor; the latter 3-2 against – weren’t binding. The council was, rather, giving direction to city staff, which will return to the city council later with a more concrete set of ordinances to consider based on Wednesday’s votes.

Since the 2016 approval of Proposition 64, which legalized adult recreational cannabis in California, Sonoma has been operating under a cannabis moratorium, which expires in November, until city officials come to terms on formal regulations regarding the newly legal intoxicant. Under the moratorium, the city adheres to a state-mandated allowing of personal cultivation of up to six indoor cannabis plants – subject to tight safety regulations – but prohibits outdoor cultivation or in-city sales of the herb, with an exception for deliveries from licensed dispensaries outside the city limits.

Many residents had been lobbying the council to allow for both outdoor cultivation and a dispensary, arguing that indoor-only cultivation was cost prohibitive and a safety concern, while an in-town dispensary would be a convenient way for residents to obtain marijuana for either pain relief or recreational purposes. Cannabis proponents cite the city’s more than 60-percent approval of Prop. 64 as a mandate for the council members to act. Additionally, a recently published non-scientific online poll conducted by the Sonoma Index-Tribune, which found a nearly 80 percent approval for of outside cultivation, was referenced several times at the meeting.

Critics of back-yard cannabis grows argue that the plants produce an unpleasant aroma. And opponents of a storefront dispensary worry it would be send the wrong message to local youth.

The public comment portion of the meeting was taken up almost entirely by cannabis proponents.

Valley resident Richard Silver reminded the council members to “represent your constituents.”

“You were not elected to use your individual bias on a single topic that effects 11,000 constituents,” said Silver. “I admonish you to put aside an individual bias on a smell… or a family member who had a (problem) with drug or alcohol abuse.”

Sonoma resident Jack Wagner compared the back yard cannabis growing issue with city ordinances regulating the number of chickens a homeowner could keep outside.

“It’s not your right to tell your neighbor they can’t have a reasonable amount of chickens, or (cannabis) plants,” said Wagner.

Eighth Street East resident Fred Allebach, directing his comment toward Councilmember Gary Edwards, said it was hypocritical of council members to champion property rights in their support of housing development, while ignoring property rights regarding what’s grown in a homeowner’s garden. Edwards had earlier in the meeting cited “property rights” in his opposition to an appeal of a controversial proposal to build three homes at the end of Fourth Street East.

Jewel Mathieson, who operates a dispensary in Santa Rosa, said a few plants in a back yard is “not a grow operation, it’s a simple garden.” She implored the council not to leave her explaining to patients who could no longer grow cannabis that, “You’re on your own, dying person. Work it out.”

Still, Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti couldn’t be swayed from her prior-stated position that there are property rights at play in what neighbors have to smell from other neighbors. And Councilmember Edwards said any allowance of outdoor plants would be unenforceable.

Council members Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley, however, remained steadfast in their support for a limited number of plants. “The last thing we should be involved in is regulating what kind of plants (residents) can grow in their back yards,” said Harrington.

But it was Councilmember David Cook, previously an outdoor-cannabis skeptic, who swung his vote to create the 3-2 majority for limited outside cultivation. “I’m for property rights,” said Cook. “I would change my vote to look at three plants with restrictions.”

While cannabis advocates were riding high at the city’s cultivation prospects, the dispensary results were more of a come down.

City staff presented the council with four basic options for commercial cannabis operations: medical delivery from outside the city; medical and recreational delivery from outside the city; an in-city medical dispensary; or an in-city medical and recreational dispensary.

It was during the dispensary consideration that the lone cannabis opponent in attendance, Thomas Cannard, voiced his displeasure with what he called “the stinky weed.”

“It’s the exposure to our young minds that this garbage that has been shoved at us,” said Cannard, who pointed out that creating “buffer zones” between dispensaries and schools wouldn’t deter gun-wielding criminals.

And a council majority – consisting of Cook, Edwards and Agrimonti – agreed with Cannard, voicing a preference for allowing only medical cannabis deliveries – with no recreational deliveries, nor dispensaries of any kind.

“I just don’t think (cannabis) should be what we’re known for,” said Edwards.