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Op-Ed: Sonoma County’s misguided planning for cannabis

Ray Krauss, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to address the severe compatibility problems with cannabis cultivation in rural neighborhoods. Last year, the supervisors committed to fixing these problems but ultimately refused to do much.

The supervisors need to acknowledge the fundamental issue. The reason there are so many “problem sites” is that they turned the planning process upside down. Even if all current problem sites were denied permits, there will be more applications for cannabis cultivation at different problem sites.

The proper way to proceed is to identify sites that are suitable, based on a set of planning criteria, rather than identifying problem sites after a permit is requested. That is how all other planning is done. In preparing general plans and zoning maps, planners identify those areas where specified uses are environmentally suitable and compatible with surrounding uses. Thus, we end up identifying commercial zones, industrial zones, multi-family residential zones (apartments and condos) and residential zones. Those areas not so identified don’t allow any of these uses.

The county should return to normal zoning. It should evaluate environmental and land use information and identify areas where cannabis grows are suitable, based on such criteria as:

— Availability of water, power, sewer and storm water drainage.

— Groundwater basins where water use won’t adversely affect the environment.

— Adequate and safe road access.

— Avoiding incompatible residential sites, schools, parks, trails and recreation sites.

— Accessibility to law enforcement.

— Avoiding risks of wildfire, landslides, flooding and other natural hazards.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9493059-181/close-to-home-sonoma-countys

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Sonoma County zoning board approves first large-scale pot farm outside Petaluma

Andrew Beale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A large cannabis-growing farm planned for west of Petaluma got a green light from Sonoma County zoning officials.

Despite vigorous opposition from neighbors, Petaluma Hills Farm’s proposal to cultivate 1 acre of marijuana on a rural property at 334 Purvine Road that used to be a chicken ranch was unanimously approved Thursday night by the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.

It’s the first large cannabis operation county officials have approved since they started taking applications two years ago for such pot operations. The single- acre tract designated for the cannabis farm — the largest allowed by the county — sits on a 37-acre property with other agriculture operations and a single-family home.

Opponents of the pot farm say it will cause a strong odor in a rural community west of Petaluma, and could bring crime and security concerns. Despite the zoning board’s approval, the battle is not over yet. Opponents have 10 days to appeal the board’s decision, which would force county supervisors to make the final ruling on the proposal.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9489518-181/sonoma-county-zoning-board-unanimously

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Cannabis and the environment

Heather Bailey, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

In an industry that wants to be seen as green, what are the real impacts? The answer is, no one knows for sure.

When you hear anti-cannabis groups complain about the impacts of legal cultivation, one concern that is often expressed is the impact on natural resources and the environment caused by growing cannabis. But how significant are those impacts, and what do they consist of? The answer is, it’s hard to say.

The research on impacts is limited and has been done almost exclusively on illegal grows. The fact they were illegal limited funding for research, limited what grows could be studied and creates significant questions as to whether the research findings can be predictive of the impacts from legal operations.

Sonoma County cannabis ordinances for legal cultivation have a strong environmental protection component, including pages of regulations about water and watersheds alone.

But are they enough? Research into environmental impacts of legal operations are in their infancy, so it may take time and research to determine best practices.

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/cannabis-and-the-environment/article_e1566fb4-a249-11e8-b62e-bfe48d93d62c.html

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Sonoma County endorses limits on cannabis production, curbs on neighbors’ protests

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday advanced revisions to rules governing cannabis businesses and farms outside city limits that would include allowing recreational sales at dispensaries and limiting most cultivation sites to properties 10 acres or larger.

The Board of Supervisors rejected two proposals aimed at addressing an increasingly contentious debate over where outdoor growing should occur in Sonoma County. One would have allowed neighborhood groups to lobby supervisors to ban cultivation in their areas on a case-by-case basis. The other would have enabled cultivators to appeal to the board to allow cultivation in an area where it’s currently prohibited.

Instead, the board opted to balance the interests of the two competing interests — marijuana farmers and anti-pot neighborhood groups — by signaling support for a more thorough permitting process for smaller pot farms, which are more likely to prompt concerns from neighbors than larger ones, according to county officials.

“I’m hopeful we can come to a broad consensus,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. “Having this (the rules) keep changing is really hard for (cannabis) operators and is really hard for neighbors who have no idea what the hell is going to happen. We need to expedite the permitting process to provide answers.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8611268-181/sonoma-county-endorses-limits-on

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Who grows your pot? Petaluma startup seeks cannabis labels

Hannah Beausang, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

It’s been more than two decades since Michael Straus helped his family forever change the landscape of local agriculture with the concept of organic dairy products. Now, he’s hoping to play the same role in Sonoma County’s burgeoning cannabis sector.

The Straus Family Creamery, a Petaluma icon founded in 1994, became the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi and the first 100 percent organic creamery in the U.S. Michael Straus handled marketing, preaching the gospel of organics in a time when that concept was largely foreign to most consumers.

About two years ago, the epiphany for his newest venture, Hugo Straus, came to him as he was smoking a joint on the family farm in Marshall. As he inhaled the pungent smoke, he realized he didn’t know a whole lot about the cannabis carefully arranged in the rolling paper.

“My career was knowing about sustainable agriculture and local food and organic, small-scale farms and all that stuff. I knew where all my food came from,” said Straus, 50, who also founded Straus Communications, a public relations agency focused on organics and sustainability. “One day I’m smoking a joint and I look at myself like … Oh my god, I have no idea who grew this pot.”

His research into cannabis exposed what he described as a gap in the industry — some products were grown with pesticides, and “no one seemed to be paying attention,” he said. This year, California introduced more stringent testing regulations, and additional hurdles are set to kick in this July. But, some studies, including a 2016 study by Berkeley-based cannabis testing and analytics business Steep Hill, have shown that contamination has been found in cannabis products.

For Straus, it’s an issue for both the consumer and the environment.
Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8019515-181/who-grows-your-pot-petaluma

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California's multimillion-dollar pot farms are going up in smoke

Martha C. White, NBC NEWS
Talk about a buzz kill: In addition to charring acres of wine country north of San Francisco, California’s sweeping wildfires are also destroying cannabis farms in and around the state’s Emerald Triangle.
For many producers, the financial losses include not just harvest-ready crops, but recent investments in infrastructure to comply with licensing regulations in preparation for recreational marijuana legalization next year.
“The fires are hitting in an area of California that’s probably the predominant outdoor cultivation site in the country,” said Robert Frichtel, CEO of General Cannabis Corporation. “It has ideal growing conditions — the same reason they grow wine grapes in that region,” he said. “It arguably produces some of the highest-quality cannabis in the country.”
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said it was impossible to know at this point how badly production had been affected, since evacuees from many fire-ravaged areas were not yet being allowed back to their farms.
“The basic reality here is we don’t know. What we know is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” he told NBC News. On Thursday, Allen said he had confirmed that seven growers among his member base had lost their crops, worth between $3 million and $6 million at wholesale; by Friday morning, the number of members with lost crops was up to 21, and the aggressive spread of the fire led him to fear the worst.
Read more at: California’s Multimillion-Dollar Pot Farms Are Going Up in Smoke – NBC News

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Sonoma County's new crossroads for legal weed

Joe Mathews, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
Adjust your California maps: The dot marking Santa Rosa needs to be bigger.
Dramatic changes in housing, demography, and criminal justice are altering the Golden State’s geography, and no place in California stands to benefit more than Santa Rosa.
The Sonoma County seat seems poised to become the most successful example of a certain type of urbanism – the rapidly growing midsize city that serves as a crossroads between major regions. The city’s current motto – “Out There. In the Middle of Everything” – encapsulates the new and paradoxical centrality of edge cities, from Fairfield and Santa Clarita to Riverside and Escondido.
“We’re on the move and we’re interested in growing,” says Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs of her town.
The fifth largest city in the Bay Area, Santa Rosa, population 175,000, plays many roles. It’s the northern spillover area for people and businesses seeking refuge from the higher costs of communities closer-in. The city now boasts 88,000 jobs, its highest employment level ever.
And by dint of geography and strategy, the city is emerging as California’s weed crossroads – or, in more official language, the “farm-to-market” center for medical and recreational marijuana, connecting the North State’s cannabis growers with the retailers and consumers of the Bay Area and points south.
While other California cities have decided to limit the marijuana industry, Santa Rosa has rapidly issued permits for cannabis operations, creating a run on warehouse space. What the city wants is higher-wage professional jobs – in sales, finance, distribution or lab testing – that the newly legal industry will require.
Read more at: Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed | The Sacramento Bee

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Sonoma County cannabis advisory group begins setting agenda

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at EmeraldReport.com, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.

Sonoma County’s rules for how and where cannabis businesses can operate were codified earlier this year, but the book on local marijuana regulations is far from finished.
Helping the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adjust its local rules is the main job of a 20-person citizen advisory group chosen from cannabis industry players and other interest groups including real estate, agriculture, public health and neighborhoods.
The panel met for the first time Wednesday to start setting an agenda for issues and recommendations to bring before the board.
Read more at: Sonoma County cannabis advisory group begins setting agenda | The Press Democrat

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Challenges loom after passage of Sonoma County cannabis tax

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Setting fair and stable tax rates and assisting about 2,000 displaced marijuana growers were among the issues facing Sonoma County a day after voters approved a cannabis business tax that will initially raise more than $6 million to cover the costs of regulating the newly legal pot industry.
A whopping 72 percent of voters approved Measure A on Tuesday, allowing the county to collect up to 10 percent of the revenues from marijuana growers and other businesses, including dispensaries and manufacturers of an increasing array of cannabis-based products.
The local vote followed California’s passage of Proposition 64, legalizing adult use of marijuana in November, and the Board of Supervisors’ adoption a month later of zoning rules that allow commercial pot cultivation on agricultural and industrial land outside the county’s nine cities.
But the critical details of cannabis regulation have yet to be determined as the county enters what Board Chairwoman Shirlee Zane on Wednesday called “uncharted territory.”
Read more at: Challenges loom after passage of Sonoma County cannabis tax | The Press Democrat