Sonoma County to take up pivotal decision over medical marijuana regulation


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will hold its first hearing Tuesday on a proposed zoning ordinance that will determine where medical cannabis can be grown for profit.

Sonoma County’s move to recognize and regulate thousands of marijuana growers has triggered a high-stakes battle between pot producers intent on protecting their livelihood and rural residents who want cannabis cultivation pushed as far as possible from their homes.

It’s a land-use conflict that may have no satisfactory solution for either the estimated 3,000 marijuana growers or the 81,000 people living on land designated for residential use in the unincorporated area outside the county’s nine cities.
And it’s a culture clash between cannabis entrepreneurs who for decades have raised, in the legal shadows, an intoxicating crop that could rival the wine grape industry in value versus residents who say the proliferation of pot gardens is destroying their quality-of-life and diminishing property values in their rural neighborhoods.
From Cloverdale to the Willowside area west of Santa Rosa, from Bennett Valley on the city’s east flank and even in the upscale Montecito Heights area, residents tell of unfriendly strangers putting up tall fences, blacking out windows and converting nearby homes to marijuana operations of uncertain legality.
Pot producers, meanwhile, are concerned that 70 percent of the 31,383 properties on rural residential land are too small to meet the county’s proposed 2-acre minimum lot size for small grows.
Kathleen Whitener, who’s lived on a Willowside area cul de sac for 31 years, said she no longer enjoys gardening in her back yard, with a feeder that attracts green hummingbirds and an ash tree for shade.
“Now I just feel creepy out there,” she said.
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