.‘Controlled Ag’: SoCo proposes pot ordinance update

Sonoma County is embarking on a pivotal update to its cannabis ordinance, inviting public input on proposed changes to foster a balance between cannabis operations and community welfare. 

This call for engagement marks the beginning of an extensive review process designed to ensure that the updated ordinance aligns with neighborhood compatibility, environmental stewardship and the community’s broader goals.

According to a statement issued by the county, the proposed ordinance would allow most cannabis operations to be “permitted by right, and not subject to review, in areas zoned as industrial and commercial; eliminate term limits and permit renewals; apply land-use regulations uniformly to medical and adult-use cannabis; adjust setback requirements that protect concentrated residential development; and allow on-site retail consumption, subject to relevant health ordinances.”

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The legislative draft of the updated ordinance, a draft General Plan Amendment, and refined “setback” requirements will be available for a 30-day public scrutiny period. 

This period is also set for conducting a thorough environmental analysis of the draft ordinance, with the county committed to making technical studies accessible to the public as they become available. Likewise, the county pledges to keep the public informed with regular updates regarding its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process.

As the process unfolds into the summer of 2024, this draft EIR will be published, opening another window for public comments. The timeline envisages the draft ordinance and EIR moving towards approval between April and December 2024, with significant milestones along the way. In the fall of 2024, the Draft EIR will be presented to the Planning Commission, inviting further public commentary and potentially leading to revisions based on the community’s feedback and the commission’s directives. This iterative process aims to refine the ordinance to meet the diverse needs of Sonoma County’s residents and stakeholders.

To wit, the journey of the ordinance update will continue into the fall of 2024 with a Planning Commission Hearing on the proposed ordinance, a critical forum for public discussion and final adjustments. The process will culminate in December 2024 with a Board Hearing, where the proposed ordinance will face its ultimate review and decision-making phase.

Tennis Wick, the director of Permit Sonoma, Sonoma County’s consolidated land use planning and development permitting agency, emphasized the county’s commitment to a transparent and inclusive update process. “This update reflects Sonoma County’s commitment to supporting the local cannabis industry while prioritizing community well-being and environmental protections,” Wick said in a statement.

Under the proposed changes, Sonoma County aims to streamline its cannabis policies to increase efforts to protect the environment. Key to the update is a shift that would allow cannabis operations in industrial and commercial zones to proceed without the hurdles of special review, a stark departure from current practices that mandate stringent checks.

The overhaul continues beyond there. The county wants to abolish the existing term limits and the need for permit renewals, propose equal land-use regulations for medical and recreational cannabis, and tweak setback rules to shield densely populated areas. Additionally, it’s set to open the door for on-site retail consumption, albeit within the bounds of prevailing health regulations.

To align cannabis cultivation more closely with other agricultural practices, the new ordinance would reclassify it as “controlled agriculture,” a move that elevates cannabis to a primary agricultural activity. This classification aims to simplify regulations for cannabis while ensuring that public health and safety remain a top priority. Although cultivation on agricultural lands will still undergo discretionary review, adopting a programmatic environmental impact report promises to make the permit process more efficient.

Written comments may be submitted to [email protected] or sent to Permit Sonoma, Attn: Cannabis Ordinance Update, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

For more information and updates on Sonoma County’s cannabis ordinance update, visit sonomacounty.ca.gov/cannabis-program.


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