Napa cannabis boosters see path to working with county, ag groups after dropping ballot effort

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Good faith moves by the Napa County Board of Supervisors led boosters pressing for commercial cannabis cultivation in the county to withdraw a ballot initiative in hopes of crafting an ordinance instead.

“In the end what we really wanted all along was for the [Napa County Board of Supervisors] to work on a public process to get to an ordinance that most people can be happy with and that works for cultivation in Napa Valley” Napa Valley Cannabis Association board member Eric Sklar said. Sklar is also part of the Napa County Citizens for Responsible Green Cannabis Regulations which pushed for the ballot initiative.

He said while previously the board had not taken up the issue of commercial cannabis cultivation, “Once we got the ballot measure qualified, they started asking staff to work on this.” He added, “We took that as a good sign of faith on behalf of some supervisors…. We felt that we needed to show good faith,” he added.

The move comes after Sklar and his group collected over 8,000 signatures earlier this year for their commercial cannabis ballot initiative, Measure J, to be placed on the March 2020 ballot.

Earlier this month the Napa County Board of Supervisors voted to place the measure on the ballot, as its only other option was to craft the initiative into a county ordinance as it stood.

Measure J, or the Napa County Cannabis Regulation Initiative, sets limits on sizes of “grow” operations, proximity to vineyards and other businesses, and other regulations.

The board earlier this month had outside consultants present a so-called 9111 report on the potential impact of commercial cannabis in Napa County as an optional step between the certification of the signatures and the decision of whether to place the measure on the ballot or adopt it as it stood.

In an email Friday, Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Ryan Gregory said at first he was “surprised” by the decision to withdraw the measure.

“We didn’t make the commitments last Tuesday that the proponents wanted in order to pull it. But them pulling it anyway demonstrates a lot of good faith in approaching this complex issue in a more collaborative way. It also shows that they heard the concerns of the County and the public around issues not addressed within the initiative that was written.” Gregory wrote.”

“The debate over our ballot measure and the 9111 report has given us a playing field of the things people are concerned about,” Sklar said. He highlighted concerns from citizens and businesses, particularly wineries, about odor as well as cannabis tainting the image of Napa County as a pristine wine growing region.

“We are very willing to compromise in a way that’s fair, that gives us a viable industry that protects people from concerns,” Sklar said, noting he expects board staff to come back in a few weeks to begin work towards a potential ordinance.

Sklar noted in an email last week announcing the halting of Measure J that the Napa County Planning Building & Environmental Services Department recently created a potential timeline to help draft a land-use ordinance that regulates the commercial cultivation of cannabis and could allow for a full public process.

He said while it had not always been the plan to force the issue through a ballot measure and then drop it, “it was one of the optional outcomes.” He added that “It wasn’t so much a plan as we needed to push forward and that was the only lever we could pull.”

The success of Sklar’s group, Napa County Citizens for Responsible Green Cannabis Regulations, in getting the issue on the ballot initially prompted The Napa County Farm Bureau to announce that it was formally launching a campaign to defeat the initiative.

In a press release last week the group announced it was halting that effort.

“We believe this is not an issue that the Board of Supervisors needs to take up now given other priorities such as fire recovery and housing.” Napa County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobus said in a press release. “The prudent way to govern and create priorities at the county right now is to follow the county’s recently adopted strategic plan and commercial cannabis cultivation never ranked anywhere as an issue.”

Note: This article has been updated with comment from Napa County Supervisor Ryan Gregory.

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