Bleeding Green: Sonoma County losing dollars and jobs

In the green heart of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa could have been America’s first true pilgrimage for weed lovers.

Counter to its longstanding reputation, Amsterdam since the ’00s has a whole new cannabis scene. The “coffeeshops” expanded from the basements of the Red Light District to hip canal-lined streets. Nowadays, a store-bought spliff can be enjoyed with friends at a waterfront table while sipping single-origin coffee.

When legalization happened here in California, that image of the new Amsterdam coffeehouse experience hovered in my mind, mapped over Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa. 

Now, instead of that fading dream, anyone visiting Fourth Street has to settle for smelling the “Sonoma Aroma” coming from huddles in the square. It’s a situation that doesn’t benefit the city or the county, which is a shame because it really seemed like we could have had something special.

The dream has become a nightmare of sorts for growers here, as I’ve written about in previous columns (“Farm Report,” Rolling Papers, Oct. 20). I talked with Alexa Wall, chair of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance about efforts to turn things around for the benefit of Sonoma County.

“The farmers finally realized that we’re stronger together,” Wall said. “At least the ones that are left.” Enter the Sonoma County Cannabis Coalition, the growers’ response to anti-economic NIMBY-ism that seems to have the upper hand for the moment.

Wall points out that according to a 2018 cannabis industry report, one in 10 dollars in the county come from cannabis. The problem with that? The report was done in 2018, before the squeeze on the local industry.

“There was a lot more cash flowing through this county [in 2018],” Wall said. Now, it’s “way less because the industry has been kind of decimated.”

We are talking about more than just tax revenue. We’re talking jobs: Cannabis farmers hire locally. We’re talking about bringing money in: Cannabis has proven to be a powerful driver of tourism for decades. And we’re talking about circulating dollars. “How many millions of dollars do you think cannabis growers have spent at Friedman’s?” Wall asked.

“The county does a very detailed ag report on all of their crops,” wait for it … “except for cannabis.” Walls is “hoping that this year the county will actually include cannabis in the Sonoma County crop reports.”

After all, according to the SCCC’s website, “Cannabis is 520 times more economically productive than wine grapes and has less environmental and land use impact.”

Economics, people.

For arguments on the economic benefits of the cannabis industry, go to keepsonomagreen.com. To support farmers’ efforts to build the industry created by Prop. 64, check out SCGA at scgalliance.wildapricot.org
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