Napa County wine, cannabis advocates reveal work still needed on commercial cultivation rules

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After months of debate, the two sides debating whether to allow commercial cannabis cultivation in Napa County may not be much closer to a compromise.

The Napa County Citizens for Responsible Green Cannabis and the Napa Valley Cannabis Association represents the interests of cannabis cultivators and the industry and say they are pushing for cannabis grows that will not disrupt the existing agriculture or character of Napa County.

The Napa County Farm Bureau represents agricultural interests in the county, including the wine industry, and has opposed those efforts in part over concerns cannabis grows could harm Napa's existing industries and prized brand.

Asked what they saw as the sticking points going into 2020, both sides agreed that more education is necessary, although they disagreed on who needed to be better informed.

Napa County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas said more public input is needed before the Napa County Board of Supervisors, even decides if it should draft an ordinance on cannabis or not, noting many Napans mistakenly conflate commercial grows with access to cannabis.

Eric Sklar of The Napa County Citizens for Responsible Green Cannabis and the Napa Valley Cannabis Association said the biggest sticking point is a lack of knowledge as well as ignorance about cannabis and its impact on other agriculture.

Earlier this year Sklar — who also owns Fumé, a cannabis cultivation and delivery business based in Lake County — and other cannabis boosters collected enough signatures to place an initiative on the March 2020 ballot about whether to allow commercial grows in the county.

Faced with a decision to adopt the initiative or put it to voters, the supervisors decided to place it on the ballot. In a last minute move however, Sklar and his group pulled back from forging ahead at the ballot box in hopes a county ordinance crafted by the board could be negotiated instead.

Klobas and his group had already begun organizing to oppose the ballot measure, which still remains a possibility if consensus on an ordinance cannot be reached. For now, the board passed a temporary moratorium on commercial cannabis cultivation that extends into 2020 and has promised to begin public outreach efforts ahead of crafting a potential ordinance.

'It's important to educate (citizens) about the difference between cultivation and access and to determine if an ordinance is actually necessary,' Klobas, the farm bureau CEO, said. 'I've said all along the community engagement process should be designed to determine if commercial cannabis cultivation is actually needed in Napa County,' he added.

He said that process should keep in mind some of the findings of a California Elections Code Section 9111 report on the proposed Napa County ballot initative. Outside consultants presented the report to the board earlier in 2019 on the potential fiscal, land-use, economic and other impacts of commercial cannabis.

'The 9111 report essentially pointed out that the market for cannabis is oversaturated,' he said.

Sklar said many of the issues raised by his opposition had been addressed in the ballot measure, which was preceded by a poll in February that found 64% of Napa County residents would support a measure allowing commercial cultivation of the plant in parts of the county.

Sklar said his suspended ballot measure provided setbacks for cannabis grows away from grapes so smells would not taint vineyards or bother visitors. He said he believed concerns raised about the visual impact of cannabis in Napa County could be successfully negotiated in the ordinance process.

'I believe, on the visual impact, we'll put together a revised ordinance,' he said. 'You won't see cannabis anywhere from the valley floor … and we will only allow it on the other side of the ridgeline on the other side of valley.'

In Klobas' view however, those precautions might not be enough to shield Napa's prized wine industry.

He said on a recent trip to Santa Barbara where cannabis and wine grapes are both commercially grown, he was told of a tasting room that was a mile and a half away from a small cannabis grow.

'We were told that the smell was so bad that the tasting room … had to shut down and lost business,' Klobas said.

Sklar admitted there are some people he doesn't expect to win over and didn't rule out the possibility of forging ahead with a ballot measure again: 'We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.'

Top business trends of 2020

Read other stories about what to expect in the local economy in the new year.

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