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Changing Cannabis Laws Impact on Sonoma County - PART 3


Changing Cannabis Laws Impact on Sonoma County -- PART 3

By Sam Euston

Continued from PART 2 in the October Sonoma County Gazette summaries of the presenters at the August 17th conference on Cannabis Impact: How Changing Cannabis Laws Will Impact Sonoma County

The Cannabis Industry

Tawnie Logan, Executive Director | Sonoma County Growers Alliance

Sonoma County is a production based cannabis industry. By our regional placement it could also be a packaging and distribution hub, so it could provide a lot of opportunity for both urban and rural in the industry. 

Santa Rosa’s dispensary ordinance will be reevaluated in the fall. There is the opening up of a conditional use permit.

There is a zoning code interpretation (it allows for the structure of the license types; the lab, manufacturing, distribution and transportation).

We will be seeing where land use cultivation fits in Sonoma County in the near future.

Polling in Sonoma County over the last 18 months has shown:

  1.     70% of the cultivators are under 3000 square ft. of cultivation.
  2.     The majority of those cultivators are in residential zoning. This is an issue because there are many residents who did not want that kind of commercial activity next door to them. Negotiating with these operators through appropriate zoning solutions will need to be resolved.

So with all this opportunity that's been talked about, what does it mean and what will that look like tomorrow?

How do cannabis operators integrate the policies and procedures?

  • Education
  • Advocate
  • Collaborate (with agencies, organizations, combining resources, utilizing affiliations)
  • And integration into the existing systems and structures currently in place. It will take considerable cooperation and motivation to move the existing County and its structures to arrive at workable regulations.
  • It's also important we encourage and maintain the excitement of the potential that there is, also understanding and keeping in mind, the challenges that are ahead.
  • Once the permits become available the next step is to deal with the logistics:
    • How to deal with consultants
    • How can the people wanting to obtain permits do so without it costing them a quarter million dollars?
    • How to creating resources that are accessible
    • Identifying the cannabis “thought leaders” early on
    • Helping those leaders and their role

It's going to take a lot of education to get this existing economy and system up to speed. Most of the resources that exist for the businesses in Sonoma County, are federally and state funded. The Growers Alliance is a collective model, that doesn't have employees and survives on its members support.

Tawnie remarked on not only is there a business savviness to the industry, but there's also a humanness to it as well 

As this industry begins its legalization, small farmers and collaborators need to find ways to cooperatively work together. It's a true sense in developing the role of a collective model, aggregating together, finding (and supporting) common values, and putting their brand to market. Helping to create confidence in the cannabis industry can be very beneficial for the growers, collaborators and the community. 

And that can help buffer the impact of larger corporations that may also be in the marketplace 

Regarding the cash rich elements of cannabis most of the cannabis owners (that Tawny knows), invest back into improved technology, equipment, real estate and provide charitable donations.

Also as a community creating best practice policies can help guide more responsible and sustainable growing practices.

They can help with water mitigation practices, power supplementation and better insulation usages.  And the policies that become employed, can help toward having the growers leave the areas better than when they found.

Tawnie also cited a local grower whose indoor facilities are carbon negative; they are producing power while cultivating indoors.


Regarding the Cannabis Distribution Model:

Cannabis distribution is different than the wine industry. This is a fast turnover industry, it's a perishable item.  The distributors have to be on top of a changing perishable market consistently and adapt flexibility as the new genetics evolve on the horizon.  There will be a variety of distributor approaches.

Farmer’s strengths are in plant cultivation and harvesting. Collaborating with distributors will be an area where farmers they can be helped.  They can be relieved of some of the reporting responsibilities through their relationship with the product distributors and product marketers.  And the distribution models will be influenced by the farmers/cultivators needs, requirements and other areas they need assistance.



Diversifying Farm Crops

Tony Linegar, Agricultural Commissioner | County of Sonoma

As the agricultural Commissioner Tony sees his role to protect and promote agriculture and cannabis is just another type of agriculture. He never sees it as displacing Pinot Noir, but what he does see is cannabis allowing farmers to diversify.

Currently there are ongoing discussions/negotiations regarding the guidelines and zoning designations for cannabis cultivation. The discussions include what size of grow will be allowed, and what are the specific mitigations that would be allowed in that zone. These would include, setbacks for odor mitigation, environmental concerns such as water quality, fertilizer and pesticide use.

There is already precedent for this type of ordinance in the county, such as in vineyard and orchard development. This is administered by the county’s agricultural commissioner's office.  In this case the ordinance establishes the standard, and then there is the complementary best standards practices that go along with it.

There are other considerations: what type of permit should be required, a conditional permit use, or a more extensive discretionary permit, which would include a site specific property based permit based on what the potential impacts are in that zoning designation for that specific grow.

It's a balancing act. The goal is to come up with something that's reasonable, creates opportunity, and is also cognizant of the costs involved.

The Commissioner’s office understands they are trying to bring people out of the closet, and into compliance. So the challenge is to address the reasons and concerns as well as the costs that the growers will need pay in order to comply.

There's careful consideration regarding coming out with a policy that's wide-open and permissive, so the approach is to proceed with cautious incremental steps. Over time as the issues become apparent, and they become more familiar with the concerns, the policy adapts to create balanced workable solutions.

Tony cited the dairy industry; 20 years ago there were a 120 dairies in Sonoma County, presently there are about 72. The dairies that have survived have done so by either going organic, or they diversified their operation with wine grapes.

Tony can see cannabis used in a similar fashion. There is a lot of crossover between the small farmers that grow our local food crops and cannabis cultivation. You always have a more resilient operation, when you diversify in agriculture.

“This is an issue in Sonoma County; we'd like to produce more local food, and the cost of the ground in Sonoma County is very expensive. You've got to sell a lot of zucchini to pay Sonoma County property taxes.”

Tony remarked that “we're looking to create opportunity for people, but maybe what we should be saying is that we want to maintain opportunity for people. 

“Those who think that everybody and their brother can grow clean high quality cannabis, and just jump into cannabis production are in for a rude awakening. Our intention is to weed out those type of people, early on in the process.

Our permitted growers are going to be held to the highest standards; the products going to be tested for mold, mildew, pesticide residue.

On the county level we already realize the cannabis industry exist in the county. We have a fairly good sense where they’re already cultivating.  And where possible, we’re trying to maintain that possibility for those people.” 

Regarding sustainability, that is being addressed by our cultivation and best standards practices.

When asked about fertilizer use, Tony remarked that regarding pesticide use, good or bad there aren't any pesticides registered for use specific to marijuana. There are food grade materials, bio fungicides, all of which qualify for organic food production.  So regarding pesticides they are already sustainable by default.  The plan is to address these concerns through best management and waste management practices.  We're looking at coming up with best management practices that are both reasonable as well as enforceable.

Tony also brought up and addressed an important land use question. Sonoma County has 63,000 acres of wine grapes.

Under the medical cannabis model we are looking at, maybe 150 to 200 acres would be dedicated to cannibis production.  This number provides some insight to the scale of actual cannabis production in the county.

Water is one of the big issues, whether it be wine grapes or any other agricultural crop. There will be metering and monitoring water use. Their recommendations will Include drip irrigation as well as mulching.

The key long-term key is, water storage; this is a practice that grape growers are implementing as well. The Russian River area is way over appropriated. Allocation for diversion rights will not be occurring anytime soon (some people have been waiting 25 years already for permit).

So runoff collection, pit ponds (surface water ponds) can be real solutions. There are some ponds that are filled just after one good rain event.

Our best management practices will be enforceable through the ordinance. So with that said, we will have pretty sustainable cannabis industry.

Tony’s closing remarks (which I’ve summarized), I think they encapsulate the impact, concerns and the success of the cannabis industry in Sonoma County.

“Sonoma is a very conservative County; there is a lot of old guard here and there's also a lot of apprehension in the community about this industry. So in going forward we need a solid land use policy, and that will also include good compliance” (by the growers and distributors.) 

“Sonoma County will probably come out conservative; but it's an iterative process, and there will be policy adjustments” (evolving along the way).  “But if after the first year of land use policy and all sorts of problems and issues have come up, and those issues are publicized by the media, (whether environmental, public safety, etc . . .) those issues are going to drastically affect the ability to loosen up our standards in Sonoma County.”

“So one thing that's critical, is that the industry will need to do some self-policing [early on] and that's going to be critical. When the bad actors appear, you [the cannabis industry] will need to call them out and stand up against them. Also, the more people you have coming in to try and circumvent the system [policies, permits, best practices] the more restrictions [could result]. Those “bad actors” are going to drastically affect the policies [current and future] in Sonoma County.” 

“Over time the restrictions can loosen up. Making it work now makes you more competitive when those restrictions are loosened.” Hezekiah Allen 



Oren Wool (Executive Director) at Sustainable North Bay has made the entire event available online for SCG at:

NOAA National Climate Data Center reference:



Sustainable North Bay-Cannabis Impact

David Hoffmann
Phytotherapist | California School of Herbal Studies 

John L. Tayer
President & CEO | Boulder Chamber 

Hezekiah Allen
Executive Director | California Growers Association

Tawnie Logan
Executive Director | Sonoma County Growers Alliance

Terry Garrett
Co-managing Member | Sustaining Technologies and GoLocal Coop
Sustainable Enterprise Conference Adviser

Tony Linegar
Agricultural Commissioner | County of Sonoma