Drive from the Golden Gate to Windsor along Highway 101, and you detect bewildering juxtapositions of cities that red-light newly legal cannabis next to those that green-light the green product.
Several towns idle hesitantly in middling yellow light. They wait and watch other cities, eagerly eyeing potential tax revenue yet wary of a swelling cannabis industry that attracts crime including ripoffs and murder.
With passage of California’s Prop. 64 that legalized recreational cannabis just 12 weeks in the rear-view mirror, most city and county leaders in the North Bay gateway to the Emerald Triangle haven’t yet adopted pot policy, much less final ordinances. There’s uncertainty around federal enforcement of cannabis laws, which classify pot as illegal, with newly elected President Donald Trump and likely confirmation of his pick for attorney general, conservative Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.
Even under Barack Obama’s administration, federal enforcement swooped intermittently into Sonoma County. In June 2016, more than 100 law-enforcement officers with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency raided five properties including a cannabis-processing business founded in 2014 as CBD Guild.
It’s now one of several businesses including Sonoma Lab Works managed under the name CannaCraft. Co-founder Dennis Hunter was arrested and held on $5 million bail then released later without charges. CannaCraft reopened in December and has 150 employees.
Santa Rosa: Green
Santa Rosa, the biggest city in the North Bay with some 175,000 people, now gives cannabis business of all kinds a bright-green go signal. A Medical Cannabis Policy Subcommittee meets monthly to map policy.
On June 6, Santa Rosa will ask voting residents for an ordinance to impose business taxes on the burgeoning weed industry. On Feb. 16, the committee reviews a draft comprehensive pot policy including cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and sale, scheduled for adoption by May. Cannabis policy is one of the city’s top five goals.
Santa Rosa flashed green to commercial cultivation in March 2016; growers must apply for conditional-use permits. Licensed dispensaries have been legal for medicinal pot since 2005.
Former Santa Rosa mayor John Sawyer is a member of the cannabis subcommittee. Regarding federal law enforcement, “our attitude is to move forward,” Sawyer said, “and to respond accordingly if they do something” that requires local response. “There’s a lot of fear out there about what they may do.”
Federal laws that keep pot illegal continue to chill banking support for cannabis businesses. “We are going to have to help the industry,” Sawyer said. “What do you do with all this cash? There are plants to be stolen and money to be found.”
Sawyer ponders what the cannabis industry will do to Santa Rosa. “What impacts will it have?” he said, including planning and law enforcement. “These are unknowns.” He does not favor large growing operations in residential areas, where “people turn their garage into a grow-house” and go above the six-plant limit set by Prop. 64.
“People complain about odor,” he said. “One of the big concerns for me is quality-of-life. It can diminish your ability to peacefully enjoy your backyard. How many calls are we going to get? There is still going to be a black market.”
The proposed sales tax of 5 percent to 10 percent on cannabis products is needed to provide revenue for staff to support investigation of cannabis-related issues.
“I think our residents will understand the need” for the tax, he said.“We don’t want to push people back into the shadows and force them into an underground industry” with a tax that’s too high including local and state taxes, he said.
North Bay cannabis red light, green light
Unincorporated Sonoma County: Mostly green
Santa Rosa: Green
Rohnert Park: Red
Petaluma: Red for now
Unincorporated Marin County: Green and red
San Rafael: Yellow
Mill Valley: Yellow
More news on cannabis coverage: nbbj.news/cannabis