Sonoma County takes marijuana reforms to other levels by recognizing and regulating thousands of cannabis growers in the region. This move has led to a conflict between marijuana manufacturers’ objective of protecting their livelihood and the masses who want marijuana cultivation to be pushed far away from their homesteads. The difference is mainly on the use of land. Apparently, there is not a suitable solution for either the 81,000 people living on land meant for residential use or the 3,000 cannabis growers in the unincorporated areas outside the nine cities of the county. Again, it is a culture clash emerging between the residents and the marijuana entrepreneurs who have raised an exciting substance that may be a great threat to the wine-grape industry in terms of value. The people say that the propagation of cannabis gardens is destroying their life quality and diminishing the values of their property in the rural neighborhoods.
There is an increasing number of weed users who want to buy marijuana from marijuana producers. Meanwhile, these producers are concerned that 70% of the over 31,000 properties existing on rural residential land are not big enough to meet the 2-acre minimum allocation size for small cultivations proposed by the county. There have been a series of conflicts in public hearings involving the Planning Commission of the county. As of now, there is a proposed zoning ordinance that will establish the regions where medical marijuana can be cultivated for profit. This move is also expected to lay the framework for the regulatory approach to be taken by the county on the cultivation of weed under proposition 64, which allowed the use of recreational marijuana. The flashpoint revolves around the recommendation by the county staff to permit what is commonly known as “cottage” growing: 25 plants outdoors, 2500 sq. ft for greenhouses or 500 sq. ft indoors on rural residential allocations of about 2 acres. Unfortunately, only about 30% of the properties meet this standard and the idea is not much welcome in finding a solution to this standoff.
The commercial growing of marijuana of up to an acre outdoors and another 22000 sq. ft indoors would be allowed in industrial, agricultural and rural resources areas. The proposed measures on land use will also permit residents to plant 6 marijuana plants or up to 100 sq. ft per residence for individual utilization. This is designed to meet the provisions contained in Proposition 64. Marijuana delivery services continue to find a base for their operations because the supply is expected to meet the demand in the ever growing market. The whiteners are some of the residents’ group that has placed a petition asking supervisors to prevent all commercial marijuana cultivation in the rural residential zones of the county. While support for medical marijuana continues to grow, the idea of practicing commercial cultivation on land meant for rural residence is not welcome by some. Reports say that about 80% of weed cultivation in Sonoma County were established in the rural resource development and rural residential zones because marijuana has been illegal. Now that it is legal, experts say that it should be located in industrial, commercial or agricultural zones.
Major conflicts in this whole matter include compromised privacy on residents’ homes where cameras have been set all over on the farms, issues to do with weed smell and the safety of the public linked with the cultivation of marijuana. Supervisor Susan Gorin, a member of the ad hoc committee of the board instrumental in the drafting of the zoning law said that she was worried about how the neighborhoods would be transformed. Marijuana growing on rural lands could be well decided based on a site-by-site approach. In that case, some weed growers may have to relocate to bigger properties. At least, there will be a series of hearings before the final changes can be made on the measure. As of now, all experts have an open mind towards the measure with some citing that the prohibition on weed cultivation won’t offer up any solution to the issues in the neighborhood. Instead, the prohibition will push the weed growers further into the shadows where the existing operations would still be propagated. Therefore, a much needed solution in form of a regulatory structure supported through the county code enforcement efforts would be of better use in dealing with these concerns.
Experts believe that the goal of the board would be to “strike a fine balance’ that will allow the cannabis industry to flourish while protecting the neighborhoods and the environment too. Most importantly, weed growers need to comply with the standards set by the county and ensure public safety in the rural areas. Such a rift continues to exist while the weed industry is believed to be part of Sonoma County’s strong agricultural heritage. Hopefully, an amicable solution will be found.