LETTERS from Gazette Readers - April 2018
Cannabis Operators are Community Members Too
There has been a lot of commotion about the County’s cannabis program lately, and much of it simply represents a fear of the unknown. Because of some of the misleading information out there, I wanted to set the record straight.
Cannabis is a plant. It’s defined under State law as an “agricultural product” and is regulated by the State Department of Food and Agriculture. It makes no sense to relegate an agricultural product to industrial zones, as some people are calling for. Cannabis cultivators already made a huge sacrifice by being shut out of the AR and RR zones, where the majority of them were located in the past, and have had to sell their properties and find new locations that fit the County’s carefully-determined criteria.
The fear of “Big Ag” coming in to the cannabis industry in Sonoma County is unrealistic, because the County’s ordinance limits growers to one acre of cultivation throughout the entire county. Less than 50 acres of cannabis cultivation have been applied for throughout all of unincorporated Sonoma County. That’s smaller than many single farms or vineyards, and according to the Agricultural Commissioner, it is unlikely that more than 100 acres of cannabis cultivation would ever be permitted in Sonoma County because of restrictions on zoning, setbacks, and other factors. There are already a significant number of stringent conditions that cannabis cultivators must comply with in order to get permitted, including conditions related to water usage, energy usage, grading, setbacks, security, and more. These conditions were designed by the Board of Supervisors to protect the environment and the surrounding community.
The fact that a business is organized as, or has its property held by, an LLC doesn’t tell you anything. Many small “mom-and-pop” businesses of all types are organized as LLCs, not just cannabis businesses. For example, a search on the California Secretary of State’s website reveals that a number of the small farming and vineyard operations in the Bennett Valley area are organized as LLCs. And while there might be applications from out-of-county LLCs, an LLC can be registered to any address, so that doesn’t mean that the tenants who will be the actual operators on that property are not from Sonoma County.
The recent marijuana-related home invasions in Sonoma County are heartbreaking. However, it is important to look at these incidents in perspective. According to law enforcement, there was no indication that any of the victims were part of the regulated cannabis industry or were going through the county’s permit process. Crimes like that will continue to be a possibility until cannabis is legalized nationwide, since federal prohibition has created a black market that artificially inflated the value of a weed. However, statistics from other states show that legalizing and imposing regulations on cannabis businesses leads to an overall reduction in crime. Licensed cannabis operators in Sonoma County must install security cameras, fencing, and alarms that are designed to prevent and thwart criminal attacks. None of those features existed at the properties that were recently victimized.
In 2016, Sonoma County voted to legalize cannabis by a margin of 59% to 41%. Even in more conservative neighborhoods, such as Bennett Valley outside of Santa Rosa, Proposition 64 was approved by 58.2% of the voters (higher than within the City of Santa Rosa). Thus, legalization is something that the majority of the community wants, even those in rural areas. Cannabis operators are members of the local community too - they are your neighbors, friends, and business patrons. Moreover, the cannabis industry has the potential to bring in additional tax revenue, jobs, and other economic benefits to help Sonoma County recover after the fires. Let’s not restrict the County’s already restrictive ordinance further before the program has even had a chance to get off the ground.
Lauren Mendelsohn, Esq., is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Omar Figueroa and is a Board Member of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.
No commercial cannabis near homes
I live in a RR (Rural Residential) area near Penngrove and Petaluma. We have paid taxes to live in this safe, tranquil residential area, originally zoned AR, since January 1989.
My neighbors and I absolutely do NOT want the encroachment of cannabis growers in this area. None of us came here to grow anything that could disturb others, nor do we want crops near us that attract thieves and violence. Recently several out-of-state criminals came to murder in search of marijuana. They did not murder to steal grapes or sheep.