Cannabis – coming to town near you
After many decades of underground production and distribution, legal marijuana has come to California, first for medical and now for recreational use. Kenwood and Glen Ellen are no strangers to the plant, with pot having been grown in the surrounding hills and not a few barns in the area for decades. Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties are the center of a widely acknowledged, underground, billion-dollar economy.
But those Wild West days are coming to an end, and the banditos and smugglers who have long ridden herd on the pot business will be tomorrow’s store-front businesses and purveyors of machine-rolled joints suitable for wine and food pairings.
And while existing growers are concerned about their future in the looming legal free-for-all over future commercial cannabis production, what’s on most people’s minds is just what legalization will mean to their neighborhood and local mountainsides.
Some, like Bennett Valley resident Craig Harrison, are concerned that growing pot in the neighborhood will be dangerous and debilitate property values. (See Guest Editorial, page 9). Others look forward to peacefully growing their own stash and becoming independent of illegal purchasing.
“It will be a relief to just have my own supply available at all times and not have to go looking around, dealing with God knows who,” one long time user said, who did not want to be identified.
Whatever the final rules are, cannabis production and distribution for medical or recreational use will be heavily regulated, with different rules for personal versus commercial growing. There are state rules and regulations, but the state also requires counties to enact their own rules on both medical and recreational cannabis use and growth, both personal and commercial.
The county’s proposed rules for medical marijuana acknowledge Proposition 64’s immediate approval of recreational use (and possession of small amounts of product). The rules are up for adoption by the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6 and could go into effect as early as January. The county will consider regulations for Prop 64’s commercial applications next year; those regulations have to be ready by January 2018.
Personal medical limits are six plants total, with a maximum of three grown outdoors (if allowed at all), in the Rural Residential (RR) areas, and no outdoor growing in residential R2 and R3 zoned areas or RR parcels with multiple unit residences. Children and pets must have no access to grow areas. Tenants must have written permission from landlords, and the patient must reside on the property in question.
Growing more plants requires a minimum of a two-acre parcel and restrictions on building sizes, quantity and zoning.
Growing medical cannabis on ag, commercial or industrial land is very tightly defined. For starters, all permits must be renewed annually and not automatically. There are lot size requirements, setbacks, building size limits and more.
A two-hour community meeting will be held on Dec. 2 at Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., starting at 5:30 p.m. where Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) officials will answer questions about the final staff report being sent to the supervisors on Dec. 6.
Sonoma County has been grappling with medical uses of marijuana since 1996, when California became the first state to approve it – approved to use, but not approved to grow or sell. Not until 2004 did state voters approve legally growing marijuana for medical purposes, making medical products out of it (salves, oils, foods, pills, etc.), and providing for dispensaries to publically sell it to people with ID cards provided by the Department of Health. Sonoma County started permitting dispensaries.
Medical use of cannabis was the start of legitimizing pot use, a movement that has steamrolled to the point where 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, and seven of those allow personal use to one extent or another, with California, Nevada and Massachusetts approving adult recreational use this year. Colorado is the most experienced state, allowing almost all types of recreational and medicinal marijuana use, and is often cited as an example of both good and bad policies.
California has been strictly focused on medical marijuana regulation, taxation, licensing and distribution for the last 20 years. The quick proposal and adoption of Proposition 64 has come like a speeding freight train into this deliberately paced legalization process, and has been seen by the underground industry as a big business highjack of the legalization process from the time it was introduced two years ago.
State medical use regulations contemplate commercial grows of under one acre, which fits the profile of the typical underground operation. Under Proposition 64, that growing canopy can and likely will be greatly expanded to much larger permitted growing areas by 2018, the year the Proposition 64 allows permitting of commercial grows to begin.
“Here in Sonoma County, there are 9,000 cannabis businesses established and existing,” Tawnie Logan said. Logan is executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, closely allied with the California Growers Alliance, representing the interests of the existing underground businesses who are seeking to become significant, if not the dominant players in the legitimate market.
Cannabis and grapes
The county’s wine grape growers already own much of the prime land and spaces amenable to growing premiere pot. Existing pot growers also fear, with some justification, that big money will pre-empt the already tiny industrial warehousing stock still on the market, sites that are ideal for large scale commercial pot operations.
Several local grape growers – who do not care to speak on the record at this time – are considering adding pot to their inventories, though all insist it is really too early to tell what the final picture will look like.
“Thinking about it is one thing, but doing it is quite another,” one grape grower said.
The regulations being considered seem to favor industrial and greenhouse production, keeping the smell and business in industrial and ag lands, out of sight and with better security than outdoor grows allow. Giving up a few dozen grape plants for a greenhouse would not be a stretch for many vineyards.
Another aspect of recreational use that dovetails with the existing wine industry is tourism. There are indications that pot/wine tours already are happening in the area, though no one will point a finger. Pot growers are known to be working on strains of cannabis that will complement certain wines and to use in foods for pairings.
There are extensive documents on the proposed marijuana rules on PRMD’s website (search “Sonoma prmd marijuana”) that provide extensive written and graphic information, including an interactive map showing locations of existing and proposed dispensaries.