Family Growers Seek New Cannabis Ordinance

Kila and Keala Peterson, a mother-and-daughter team with a cannabis farm in Guerneville, are famous for their CBD-rich plants. Sadly, they lost buildings and landscaping in the fires that raged across West County in the summer of 2020.

“Out of the ashes comes incredible beauty and opportunity,” Kila tells me. Keala adds, “We’re rebirthing.”

Kila and Keala are as rare and beautiful, too, as daffodils blooming in Guerneville in January. They’re representative of the gritty cannabis community to which they belong. Lately, they’ve become more vocal about the need for a new cannabis ordinance that will help grow the industry. “Unfortunately, not many people have written letters to the Board of Supervisors in support of small farmers,” Kila tells me. “The anti-cannabis folks have rallied their forces and deluged the supervisors with complaints.”

Mom comes from Hawaii and says that her heart is still there, though West County also claims her loyalties. “The land and our farm are in me,” she says. “Our 225 acres haven’t abandoned us.”

Kila and Keala and other growers want the Department of Agriculture to handle permitting. After all, cannabis is a cash crop that grows in the ground and wants sun and water.

Ag commissioner Andrew Smith tells me, “It’s important to fulfill the goals that the Board of Supervisors set in 2019. We need to streamline the process and offer more ministerial permits.” Smith adds, “Farmers view ministerial permits as less burdensome and a more expeditious way to legitimizing their activities. A streamlined process could lead to an increase in the number of permits issued at the local level.”

Former Sebastopol mayor, Craig Litwin, who is now at the 421 Group, a cannabis consultancy, wants a new track to end the log jam. “There’s a sense of urgency about a new ordinance,” he tells me. “Growers are chomping at the bit.”

Litwin speaks for the cannabis community when he says, “we’re all in this together.” To move the cause forward, he and other industry leaders, along with their friends, have created a new organization: the Sonoma County Cannabis Coalition. They’ve also drafted a petition for citizens to sign and circulate. It accuses the county of “dragging their feet.”

Kila Peterson points out that grape growers don’t hide their vineyards, while the county requires cannabis growers to surround their gardens with fences as though cannabis was something to hide.

After the devastating fires of 2020, several guys from the pro-pot Hessel Grange showed up at Kila and Keala’s farm and helped plant a row of weed. Kila tells me: “We have a community and we have one another. Our Sonoma land has some of the sustaining essence of Hawaii.”

Jonah Raskin is the author of “Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery.”

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