Napa County supervisors vote to put commercial cannabis cultivation initiative on ballot

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The Napa County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday that will let voters decide in March of next year whether commercial cannabis cultivation and sale will be allowed in the county.

The board was faced with the decision to place commercial cannabis cultivation on the ballot or adopt the provisions of Measure J, pushed by local cannabis business boosters. The supervisors voted against adopting Measure J, or the Napa County Cannabis Regulation Initiative, which sets forth limits on sizes of "grow" operations, proximity to vineyards and other businesses, and other regulations.

The Napa Valley Cannabis Association, which has pushed the measure, collected enough signatures in earlier this year to place the issue on the Napa County ballot.

State election law limits the actions county officials can take after an initiative is certified to have enough signatures to qualify for a ballot: craft the initiative into a county ordinance as is, put it on the ballot or call for a report on impacts of the initiative.

Outside consultants presented the results of the report to the board Tuesday.

In presenting the report, Barbara Kautz of the law firm Goldfarb & Lipman LLP noted that conflicts between wineries and cannabis grows could arise, particularly because of pesticide drift and odor concerns.

“Conflict between vineyards and cannabis may occur,” Kautz said, noting cannabis cannot have any traces of commercially available pesticides or insecticides, some of which are used in vineyards and could waft into cannabis grows.

Mark Lovelace from auditing specialist HDL Companies echoed that “cannabis could create vectors for introducing diseases or pests that are otherwise controlled” by pesticides.

He also noted the report found the cannabis industry in Napa County would generate approximately $760,000 to $1.52 million per year in tax revenue from cultivation of the plant.

During the public comment period, representatives of the local agricultural industry opposed the initiative and urged the board to send it to the voters in March in the hopes it would fail.

That included Ryan Klobas, CEO of the Napa County Farm Bureau, making his opposition clear in painting cannabis as a threat to the local wine industry.

“You can have a cannabis grow an hour and a half away from a tasting room and have clients at the tasting room smell the marijuana as if it's growing right next to them,” he said.

Eric Sklar, a founding member of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association, told the board, “This is a very happy day for me.”

He said it was not because the initiative would likely go on the ballot, but because the board was finally having a dialogue around how to bring commercial cannabis into Napa County after California voters legalized recreational cannabis via Proposition 64, which took effect in January 2018.

Before the vote, board Chairman Ryan Gregory voiced some of the concerns brought up by the report and that pervaded the discussion throughout the day.

“I get it that the hundred-acre grows are way different than half-acre and 1 acre grows,” to which the measure would limit cultivation, he said. “But you lose control of the odor problem immediately.”

Pesticide drift was also a concern, he said.

The report also found that cannabis cultivation is significantly more valuable per acre than wine grows.

“I’m concerned about the value of this crop competing unfairly with vineyards,” Gregory said.

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