Feb 2, 2019
by Johna Raskin, Freelance Writer, professor emeritus at Sonoma State University
By no stretch of the imagination could Lynda Hopkins be called a “pot politician,” but she’s the supervisor of the Fifth District, where more marijuana is cultivated than in any other district in Sonoma County. Geography, agriculture and politics have pushed her front and center where cannabis is concerned, not just locally but nationally.
In January, she appeared in aNew York Times story by Thomas Fuller, the paper’s San Francisco Bureau Chief. The article was titled “Now for the Hard Part: Getting Californians to Buy Legal Weed.
“The icon for cannabis is going to become the Marlboro Man,” TheNew York Timesreported Hopkins as saying. “In California we’ve done what we always do—regulate, regulate, regulate, which ultimately gives significant advantage to large companies with significant economies of scale.”
If readers of The Times concluded that Hopkins was throwing up her hands and giving up the fight for small cannabis growers, that’s not what she intended. So she insists.
“What I meant to convey is that we will end up with corporate cannabis unless we make changes,” Hopkins explained during a recent phone interview.
“I would like to see more locations for cannabis that have significant setbacks, impacts mitigated and make the whole application process less onerous,” she said.
That view is close to what many Sonoma County marijuana growers would like: more locations and a less onerous application process. It’s also close to what many rural citizens want: setbacks and mitigated impacts. For Hopkins, the challenge is to make both sides happier than they are now.
From her perspective, a win-win outcome is possible, though the future of cannabis in Sonoma County is still unsettled and uncertain.
“Not all permits are controversial,” Hopkins said. “In my district, I can count the problems on one hand.”
That’s good news.What’s disappointing is that Sonoma County has taken in millions of dollars from wanna-be cannabis farmers and given out zero permits in the last eighteen months or so.
“Yes, that’s a fair metaphor,” she said. “I definitely hear from both sides. To move forward, it’s important to separate the facts from the fictions and the hyperbole from the reality.” Indeed, the foes of cannabis often fall back on blatant exaggerations, like the woman who lived ½ mile from a grow site and insisted that she had a cannabis rash.
“No, never,” she said. “I like the challenge. There’s a lot to do and I’m not alone.James Gore and I both sit on theCannabis Ad Hoc Committee.”
Hopkins said that she has not been surprised by the pockets of opposition to the cultivation of cannabis.
“Many people like bacon,” she said by way of explanation. “But they don’t want to live next door to a pig farm.” She added that she has been disappointed that more cannabis growers don’t engage with the political process, though she also knows that many of them have been outlaws and even criminals and have long opted out of public life.
She’d like cannabis growers to get with the program and “be more proactive.” She added, “My door is always open. I’m not in code enforcement. I want to learn how to make the whole process better for everyone involved.”
As a former farmer in rural Sonoma County, she knows and understands personal attachments to property. “When it comes to land use, passions run hot and big existential issues are involved,” she said. When asked if she thought that Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, two big-name French existentialists could help, she said, “No, let’s go with Socrates walking around and asking questions.”
As Hopkins sees it, many growers are hesitant to alter their way of operating in the world, while rural residents fear change in their neighborhoods, even when they’re lawful. Then there are the five county supervisors. “There are five different opinions,” Hopkins said.
Open Meetings: Except as expressly authorized under the Ralph M. Brown Act (the State’s local agency open meeting law), all meetings of the Cannabis Advisory Group are open to attendance by interested members of the public.
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