sonoma california cannabis
Will Sonoma stay green?

In 1996 Californians voted for the Compassionate Use Act (aka Prop 215), but more than twenty years later Californians are still fighting for their cannabis rights. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the entire state of California is open to cannabis businesses. Our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices field calls from new clients every week looking to start a cannabis business but on many occasions, I have to crush their business plans before they can even get started. It’s not that their business plan isn’t sound, it’s that their business is prohibited in the city or county where they wish to operate.

These bans exist because the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) explicitly authorizes local jurisdictions to regulate (or outright prohibit) as they see fit. This authority granted to local jurisdictions is just one of the reasons why commercial cannabis licensing has gotten off to a rocky start. After I tell the client that they can’t operate in Butte County, for example, the next question I usually get is “where can I operate?” If you’re a reader of our California Cannabis Countdown series, you’ll know that cannabis friendly jurisdictions do exist, but whether these locales will always remain open to cannabis is another question. There’s an unfortunate trend occurring throughout the state where local jurisdictions are passing laws authorizing commercial cannabis activities only to later change their minds. This brings me to Sonoma County.

Sonoma County would fall into the category of a cannabis friendly jurisdiction, as the County authorizes all seed to sale license types (for medical cannabis businesses anyway). However, recent events have put the County’s cannabis friendly tag in serious peril. There have been a number of high profile robberies (one of which was sadly fatal) of alleged cultivation grow houses, and cannabis opponents have been highlighting these robberies to press the County to make restrictive changes to its cannabis ordinance. The fact that the perpetrators were from out of state and came with the specific goal of targeting grow houses is also being used to further stoke fears. What the prohibitionists are not mentioning is that the houses that were targeted were not legally licensed cultivators, but instead were selected because they were suspected of being illegal grow houses. Licensed operators have security plans and security protocols, whereas illegal operators do not. This push to restrict cannabis activities in Sonoma is misguided as it will strengthen the black market and thereby increase crime. This small but vocal group of cannabis opponents have approached the Board of Supervisors and requested that the County:

  • Freeze issuing any cannabis permits until the County’s ordinance is amended;
  • Authorize only indoor cultivation, and ban all outdoor cultivation;
  • Restrict cultivation to only industrial zoned areas;
  • Place a cap on the number of cultivation permits based on the amount of cannabis necessary to supply only County residents;
  • Disband the Cannabis Advisory Group; and
  • Make these changes retroactive to apply to existing permit applicants.

If this vocal group of opponents is able to persuade the County’s Board of Supervisors to change the County’s cannabis ordinance to include these restrictive changes, the effect on operators who have spent extensive time and capital to abide by the law will be disastrous. Only those that have never been interested in complying will have benefited.

We’ve spoken at length about the importance of showing up to your local hearings and public support is needed now in Sonoma County now more than ever. We don’t want Sonoma to end up like Calaveras County. The Board of Supervisors are meeting this Tuesday at 1:30pm and the Sonoma County Growers Alliance is requesting that supporters come dressed in green. I hope to see you there wearing your St. Patrick’s Day best.