The public is greatly encouraged to be a part of the planning for the future of weed cultivation in the County over the next three years
Sonoma County has been actively addressing the cannabis business since the legalization of recreational use. The County’s Board of Supervisors are constantly working on both permitting and environmental regulations.
Recently, the Board approved funding for a new Sonoma County Cannabis program, with a timeline through 2024, called “Public Visioning and Idea Generation.” These visioning sessions, which began last week, were held twice a day for four days and provided an open forum for community members to discuss four major topics: siting and land use; safety; water resources; and visual resources.
The Board’s draft ordinance is due by January 2022, after which they’ll allow for more public comment. The planned wrap-up and Board hearing is tentatively scheduled for summer 2024. Although the Permit Sonoma office and those working on the ordinance indicate this is a rushed schedule, there is a grace period of three years to learn and comment on the process—the public is highly encouraged to get involved.
Crystal Acker, who leads the Cannabis Permitting Program, has years of experience in cannabis regulation. “I worked in the county environmental review and natural resources section for ten years, guiding projects through sometimes complicated environmental review processes that included several environmental impact reports,” says Acker. “I also have a background in plant biology, which I suspect is the reason I was originally assigned to the cannabis team!”
During last week’s open forum, the public raised concerns about cannabis grow locations, the size of cannabis business operations, as well as issues surrounding odor, noise, and accountability.
Popular public opinion is that cannabis should not be allowed to grow in residential or rural areas, near watersheds or where water is scarce, any place where trees would need to be removed or nature altered, or where grow farms would negatively affect local community residents (due to odor and/or noise) who moved to the County prior to legalization and permitting.
Overall, industrial areas were the most heavily suggested locales for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution.
Regarding the size of cannabis grows, most public comments leaned toward following state policy* or one acre per approved parcel or 10-20% of the overall parcel up to one acre.
Odor is also a controversial issue, but attendees pointed out that it’s simply another offshoot of agriculture like “cow poop and grape pomace.”
The heavily attended visioning sessions on the water use aspects of cannabis cultivation were indicative of the ongoing concerns over water in Sonoma County. Although there is belief that weed is a “thirsty plant,” David Kuzmar of the North Coast Regional Water Board, pointed out that, in Sonoma County, water comes from groundwater withdrawals and surface water diversions.
Most water used for irrigation is groundwater; the scaling of water use ranges from 0.6 acre feet of water per year for grapes, to 1.8 for orchards, 2.0 for cannabis, and 3.6 acre feet per year for pasture and lawns. “We should ask ourselves today how water resources can be responsibly used for cannabis cultivation and where it should come from and how cannabis growers can lower their water footprint,” Kuzmar said, following up by asking, “What novel practices can be implemented—like rain water capture, recycled water use and water saving cropping and irrigation practices?”
A few other suggestions were made from attendees, such as a moratorium on all new wells for cannabis. But across the board, there was general agreement that an Environmental Impact Report should update the County’s statistics—regarding water, acreage planted, odor—before putting cannabis ordinances in place.
All of the sessions can be found on the Permit Sonoma website https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Cannabis/Comprehensive-Cannabis-Program-Update-and-Environmental-Impact-Report/ and comment is still encouraged. Email [email protected] and let them know your thoughts.
*State policy allows for different sizes of grows, the largest being a “medium” grow until large grows may be allowed in 2023.
- Medium outdoor: 10,001 square feet to 1 acre of canopy
- Medium indoor: 10,001 to 22,000 square feet of canopy