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Sonoma County Gazette
Yellow House with Cannabis

CANNABIS - How Close is Too Close?

Jun 28, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes


Sonoma County is in the midst of refining our Cannabis Ordinance, addressing where it can be grown, & defining the permitting and taxing process, etc. to bring this Black Market business into compliance with all other legal businesses. When legality becomes national, banks will get involved and one of the biggest hurdles to conducting a legitimate business will be out of the way.

The plant is amazingly flexible in terms of its many uses. From recreational use, to fiber for ropes, paper, clothing, etc. and medical uses that span pain relief to cures. No wonder competitors want it to remain illegal. It’s easy to grow and useful in so many ways that it competes for market share in multiple categories.

But it’s a PLANT that has to be GROWN, and one of the greatest challenges isWHERE?

We live where miles of hills are covered in vineyards, but no one has to worry about people stealing grapes because wine grapes require a complicated process to become an alcoholic beverage. Cannabis can be ripped off and with ease.

And because there are no banks that process cannabis income, it’s still a cash business. That means large sums of money are stashed on personal property as opposed to being deposited safely into a bank. Thus the issue of crime that has so many people concerned.

Neighbors next to cannabis grows are scared because of home invasions and killings. Cannabis growers are also scared for the very same reasons! Consider CBD plant growers who just want to make a product that relieves pain and nausea for cancer victims. Criminals are not thinking about the welfare of others. They see a crop and assume cash is on-hand as well.

Smell is another factor angry neighbors bring up. In a recent conversation with a concerned neighbor, I asked how our county deals with other agricultural smells such as: pig and dairy farms; steer, sheep, turkey, chicken and other meat ranches; egg farms; wineries that process grape skins that ferment nearby; ranches that spread manure that fills the air with the smell for weeks at a time. In the tiny town of Valley Ford and you can’t escape the smell od animals no matter what time of year you are there. Drive down Stony Point Road between Hwy 116 and Petaluma Blvd. and close your windows so you can breathe deeply. Smell/odor is an agricultural by-product.

When the planning commission reviewed our current Cannabis Land Use Ordinance, and the Board of Supervisors held a hearing, they decided more time was needed to take neighbor complaints into consideration. It looked like the current land use designations weren’t working well for neighbors in those areas defined as good for grows.

Diversified Agriculture and Rural Residential covers land where people have homes scattered among farmland. Setbacks from property lines for crops have not been defined for cannabis grows. Water use is just beginning to be considered and will have to go through the same rigorous scrutiny any agricultural crop has to go through.

Setbacks are one area where the ordinance can be changed to find a place where this crop and residential neighbors can function in harmony. Right now there are insufficient setbacks (100 feet) so growers can put a grow house, or till a field close to a fence line. That means the small parcels of open land in a residential neighborhood can be cultivated. If setbacks become sufficient to pull the crops away from the fence line, neighbors have said it would provide enough room to mitigate the smell of this crop when it is near harvest time. Grow structures (large greenhouses, etc.) have no setback requirement so many are right up against a fence line. This needs to change.

Indoor cultivation? Some people recommend bringing the crop indoors so it can be grown in industrially zoned parcels. In one way that looks like a solution because it’s easier to secure a building than it is an open field. Airflow systems can reduce smells considerably. But industrial buildings have been established in old neighborhoods, and indoor crops are very different from outdoor crops, so this solution might mitigate some concerns, but it does not solve the dilemma. Farmers don’t want to farm indoors, and people want to purchase outdoor-grown products, so there has to be a solution for outdoor grows.

Ultimately one of the suggestions at the Board of Supervisors hearing may be that each permit gets handled individually on a case-by-case basis. Naturally, that would slow the permitting process considerably so there still has to be a compromise that allows farmers to farm and residential homes to feel safe.

Permit Sonoma is having their next hearing on June 28th at 1 pm in the Board of Supervisors chambers at 575 Administration Dr., Santa Rosa. Then what they decide goes to the Board of Supervisors for another hearing on August 7th. This is a good time to make sure your concerns are known to both Permit and the Board:

Also attached to this article is the current ordinance so you can read it and mark up what you think should be changed.


Cannabis Ordinance Amendments Part 1

This plant is too valuable to society to remain illegal and on the Black Market. People need it, people want access to it, and the tax benefits will help solve some of our budget shortfalls. This is a win/win if we can work out how to grow the crop in harmony with our land use policies.

If you consume Cannabis, grow cannabis, voted to legalize cannabis, or are a neighbor to a cannabis crop… now is the time to let your opinions be known.


Jun 30, 2018
#1 The tax benefits are a myth. Calaveras County revoked their ordinance allowing pot cultivation. You will never make more on permits than the costs. 1 murder investigation costs well over $1 million dollars. We have 7 pot murders currently. You want to generate income for Sonoma County coffers? 2 words: Enforcement. (I know it's only 1 word, that's my quirky sense of humor, get it?) There are 5000 illegal grows, fine all those land owners $10000 - bingo you just collected $50 million. $10K is a pittance considering the heinous damage done to our forests, streams, parks from pot grow sites. #2 - Re: People want it. Yes voters approved Prop 64 - because they wanted their neighbors to be able to smoke a joint without fear of prosecution, not because they wanted their neighbors to put up a 10 foot fence, with high power lighting, generators, guard dogs, alarms, 24 hour employee and delivery and garbage truck traffic and 4 months of putrid stench, sucking wells dry on remote parcels serviced by small private roads - to grow this mangy skanky weed. Thanks for all the great coverage, keep up the good work!
- Jim Bracco
Jul 2, 2018
Jim - the TAX benefits are not just taxing the product itself when it sells. There are income taxes that every person who works in the industry will have to pay when this is a fully-legitimate business. Business taxes as well. All the taxes that every other individual and business has to pay that this industry has escaped by being illegal. It's simply time. Many of the offensive details will get worked out over time, but it will take time. I don't know how long it took to find a sense of normal when alcohol was prohibited and made legal again, but I do know that prohibition fed a very nasty black market and much of the nastiness never went away.
- Vesta Copestakes
Jul 9, 2018
SUBMITTED VIA EMAIL: Parts of the Sonoma County Final Cannabis Ordinance are so wrong it beggars belief. In County documents and staff reports, one finds somewhat sensible sentences like: “Setbacks are often used to ensure neighborhood compatibility and mitigate impacts of a particular land use such as odor, noise, or light. Setbacks are effective ways to mitigate these impacts as they focus on site design elements rather than regulating ongoing behaviors.” However, one soon discovers that the County fails to acknowledge that fumes from a 43,560 sq ft marijuana grow are much more noxious to downwind homes 300 feet away than the fumes from a 100 sq ft grow. Where are the County provisions for longer setbacks for larger grows? Three hundred feet from an acre marijuana grow to a family room isn't a mitigating setback; it's an empty gesture. County fail! Then the County fails to protect those RR residents who live on DA borders and in the many clusters of RR neighborhoods the County embedded in DA zones. These residents have NO property setback from the nearly as noxious indoor DA grows. In other words, someone can turn an old DA barn into an indoor grow a foot from your side fence. No setback is mitigation? County fail again. And where are protective graduated buffers in the form of limits on the numbers and sizes of outdoor DA grows on RR borders and on grows surrounding the County-embedded RR areas in DA zones? Again, County fail. Now we learn that the Planning Commission supports allowing grows in RR and RA Zones. It's as if the County is determined to pound square pegs into round holes to accommodate growers while unwilling residents are the pegs being pounded on. Depending on which options the County adopts, I can lot-average my West County parcels, quitclaim them to my children, and they can potentially send the neighbors 87,000 square feet of stink from only 300 feet away. The County needs to recognize two realities as it moves to update its Ordinance: Sonoma County is no longer a county of wide-open spaces, and it is ongoing behaviors from nearby properties, not some "site design elements", that can make neighborhood life miserable. R. T. Guthrie, Lakeport
- Vesta Copestakes
Jul 11, 2018
SUBMITTED VIA EMAIL: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SONOMA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS Dear Supervisors, Not many of us in this life have the power and opportunity to safeguard the well-being of thousands of our neighbors. But, at this moment, you do. I attended the Planning Commission meeting on June 28th during which changes were recommended to the Cannabis Ordinances Setback Regulations to improve Neighborhood Compatibility. You now have a complex job on your hands. With respect, let me try to simplify it for you by asking you to keep one thing very clearly in mind: The vast MAJORITY of residents in Sonoma County DO NOT WANT to live near a commercial cannabis operation. Many of these residents have lived in the County their whole lives, some families for generations. Suddenly, their quality of life is being compromised by the hazards of commercial cannabis cultivation: significant loss of property value, crime, noise, glare, traffic, noxious odors, massive water use. Many of these residents have resigned themselves to having a cannabis operation near their homes because of fear of confrontation and reprisal or because they feel powerless in the face of the massive amount of money and influence the cannabis industry brings to its lobbying efforts. You can protect these residents - and honor the wishes of the majority of your constituents - by making two changes to the Cannabis Ordinances: 10 Acre Minimum Lot Size 1000 feet Setbacks This would be simple. This would be fair. This would be Neighborhood Compatibility. Many thanks for your attention, Patrick Ball SEBASTOPOL
- Vesta Copestakes

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