Bennett Valley Resident Testimonial

Bennett Valley Resident Testimonial

I believe that we all know that Prop 64 did not give our city and county governments a mandate to promote marijuana, to the exclusion of the needs and well-being and safety of Sonoma County residents.

I have lived in Bennett Valley for 30 yrs. I am writing you today with an update on the current situation as regards marijuana in the city of Santa Rosa and the county of Sonoma.

Looking back, medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996. In 2005, Santa Rosa enacted an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries through a permitting program. Marijuana for recreational use was legalized by the state in 2016 via Prop. 64 with 57% in favor and 42% against. In December of 2017, the Santa Rosa City Council unanimously adopted the city’s Comprehensive Cannabis Ordinance, which regulated personal cannabis cultivation and the commercial cannabis business.

Turning to the county of Sonoma, in December of 2016, just one month after recreational marijuana use was voted in, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Cannabis Ordinance for Land Use, the Medical Cannabis Health Ordinance, and the Cannabis Business Tax Ordinance. In 2017, the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee was created by the Board of Supervisors, led by Supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore. In December of 2019, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve recommendations from the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee. One of the most significant recommendations was moving the oversight of the marijuana cultivation projects from the PRMD, Permit and Resource Management Department, to the Agricultural Department. Another impactful move from the committee was to amend the Cannabis Land Use Ordinance so that cannabis cultivation would be allowed with a ministerial permit. All of the recommendations to the BOS were solidly in favor of the commercial cannabis interests, including “Shifting priorities from a countywide environmental impact review toward changes that do not require that level of environmental review.” (from a Dec. 20, 2019 article by pot lawyer Omar Figueroa, “Sonoma County Supervisors Vote to Explore Changes to Cannabis Program”)  ”

Since the city of Santa Rosa enacted the Cannabis Ordinance in 2017, there has been an explosion of dispensary permit applications and dispensary permit approvals in the city, despite vigorous opposition by residents. Of note, not all cities in California allow marijuana outlets. As of 2019, only 89 of 482 California cities allowed cannabis retailers. There is no cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in Santa Rosa, unlike many other California and US cities.

 The permit application for a cannabis dispensary in a residential neighborhood of Bennett Valley was unsuccessfully fought by residents from 2019-June of 2021., including an appeal before the Santa Rosa City Council that was unanimously defeated 6-0. Despite multiple egregious and serious flaws in the permit application and the process itself, the applicant was granted an operating permit. This scenario has been played out time and again in Santa Rosa. In September of this year the Santa Rosa Planning Commission approved a permit application for a 17,000 sq. foot cannabis facility that will include a grow operation, a manufacturing unit, a retail store, and a consumption lounge in the Roseland district. All despite overwhelming community opposition.This vast marijuana outlet will be located in a dense residential neighborhood. It is abundantly clear that since recreational marijuana was legalized, Santa Rosa has aspired to be a cannabis hub. This concept includes the promotion of Canna-tourism and the pursuit of cannabis appellations by local marijuana businesses. 

The county of Sonoma was poised this year to hand the commercial cannabis concerns carte blanche, in approving a revised commercial cannabis ordinance. This would have relaxed commercial cannabis permitting and provided other critical benefits to commercial cannabis’ wish list. Only through massive push-back and effort by residents was disaster averted. The County Cannabis Program was then charged with holding public Zoom Visioning workshops and small group meetings. The results were given to the BOS, who then held a lengthy public Zoom presentation of this input several weeks ago. In September the Board of Supervisors approved a 45-day interim moratorium on ministerial multi-tenant cannabis cultivation permits. On Tuesday October 26t, they will vote to consider extending the interim moratorium to September 2023.

I believe that we all know that Prop 64 did not give our city and county governments a mandate to promote marijuana, to the exclusion of the needs and well-being and safety of Sonoma County residents. Indeed, cautionary stories are emerging from states such as Colorado which has experienced pot legalization far longer than California. We are seeing data that marijuana use has increased 30% in children 12 yrs and older. And because the THC in cannabis now is so much more potent, marijuana poisonings and ER visits have increased, as well as traffic fatalities. 

Do we really want to foster this in our county? What do you think?

Please contact the Board of Supervisors as soon as possible and provide your input.

Mayme Follett

Bennett Valley