Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jan 2016
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Press Democrat
Author: Kevin McCallum


Santa Rosa took another step toward becoming the center of the North 
Coast's commercial medical marijuana industry Tuesday when the City 
Council pushed forward a plan to regulate cultivation instead of banning it.

Following the advice of its subcommittee, the council rejected an 
outright ban and instead approved a plan to temporarily allow 
large-scale marijuana cultivation in at least three nonresidential 
zoning districts with special permits approved by the Planning Commission.

The 7-0 vote was wildly applauded by a chamber filled with people who 
said they were grateful for the chance to conduct their underground 
business legally.

Councilwoman Julie Combs said it isn't often that an industry steps 
forward and asks to be taxed, regulated and given land-use restrictions.

"I think Santa Rosa is remarkably well placed in our North Bay area, 
as well as for other reasons, to be involved in moving this industry 
forward," Combs said to whoops and hollers of approval.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler initially had recommended the city ban 
commercial marijuana growing in advance of a fast-approaching March 1 
deadline. Cities such as Santa Rosa that didn't have regulations in 
place by then risked losing their right to regulate the activity 
under a new state law meant to comprehensively regulate the industry.

That deadline, which Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, has said was 
inserted in error, may yet go away. A bill rescinding it could be 
signed by the governor by the end of the month, said Ed Sheffield, 
Wood's district representative.

But until that happens, the city, like others around the state, was 
obliged to act or risk losing the right to say where or how major 
cultivation businesses could operate in the city.

Councilmembers praised city staff for working swiftly to handle what 
amounted to a last-minute bureaucratic curveball in a way that met 
the deadline without roiling an existing - albeit shadowy - industry 

An 'elegant solution'

Erin Carlstrom, a member of the council's marijuana subcommittee and 
an attorney who works for a local firm specializing in marijuana law, 
praised city staff for coming up with a "really elegant solution."

She noted that she is aware of other jurisdictions that are charging 
as much as $50,000 for a permit and imposing special taxes on marijuana.

"I am excited that our staff and members of the community have 
allowed us to begin regulating an unregulated industry," Carlstrom said.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler had issued an opinion stating that 
Carlstrom's work for the Rogoway Law Group did not represent a 
conflict of interest, Carlstrom said. She said part of her job 
involves corporate compliance for the medical marijuana industry, 
work she said does not conflict with her council service because it 
involves a policy decision not directed at any particular industry member.

Several grower representatives framed the issue in terms of avoiding 
disruption to an industry with a growing economic impact on the region.

Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine, noted the 
industry was rivaled only by grapes as the largest cash crop in the 
county. He said a ban would affect his business, which employs 250 
people, his members, which number 40,000 patients, and would make 
"otherwise undocumented small business illegal business due to state 

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"This is truly affecting your everyday citizens and your middle 
class," said Jacob, a member of the Sebastopol City Council.

Others drew parallels between a proposed ban and Prohibition.

"There isn't any black market in chardonnay, nor is there in Jack 
Daniels," winemaker Ted Simpkins said. "All we've got to do is look 
at the law."

As currently proposed, the temporary regulations would allow 
commercial cultivation only in general commercial, light industrial 
or general industrial zoning districts with a special permit. Related 
Stories Santa Rosa planning panel rejects pot-growing ban

That permit would only be granted after notification of the public 
and a hearing before the Planning Commission.

Commercial real estate broker Dino D'Argenzio urged the council to 
make the process even easier. He suggested commercial cultivation be 
approved in such areas with no more than a business license. He said 
there were "a lot of people looking" at properties and allowing the 
uses outright would remove some uncertainty.

"I think it would save a lot of people a lot of hassle and money and 
time," D'Argenzio said.

$10,000 price tag

City officials said such permits cost $10,000 and can take several 
months to issue, depending on whether they are appealed.

D'Argenzio also suggested the city expand the types of zoning 
districts where cultivation would be allowed beyond the three, 
proposing to include business parks, as well.

The council decided to keep the permit process in place, but agreed 
to have staff explore whether other districts would be appropriate. 
The issue now goes to the Planning Commission for review and must 
return to the council for approval on an urgency basis to take effect 
before March 1.

The regulations will not apply to personal cultivation, which is 
exempt under state law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom