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Cannabis Regulation Background

Following the passage of Prop 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act or AUMA), the legal landscape concerning the use of cannabis California has been changing rapidly. AUMA legalized nonmedical use of marijuana by persons 21 years of age and over, along with the personal cultivation of up to six marijuana plants. In addition, AUMA established the basis for a state regulatory system governing the commercial cultivation, testing, and distribution of nonmedical marijuana, and the manufacturing of nonmedical marijuana products.

To implement the provisions of AUMA allowing for commercial cannabis activities, in June of 2017, the State Legislature passed the “Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act” (MAUCRSA), combining the medical and adult-use cannabis systems into one licensing structure, with a single regulatory framework governing medical and adult use facilities, overseen by a newly established “Bureau of Cannabis Control” (BCC). It is anticipated that the BCC will issue proposed regulations for as many as 18 cannabis license types with the intent of beginning issuance of State licenses to medicinal and recreational cannabis businesses starting in January 2018.

November 7, 2016:  City staff began researching the recently adopted State laws concerning
cannabis, the licensing types and regulations under development by State agencies, and the
measures undertaken by other communities with respect to the regulation of cannabis.

December 2016:  In anticipation of the passage of Prop 64, the City Council
on a vote of 4-1 had adopted two interim moratorium ordinances addressing the following: 1) placing restrictions on the indoor cultivation of nonmedicinal cannabis; and 2) prohibiting the outdoor cultivation of nonmedicinal cannabis. In December of 2016, the City Council voted to extend these ordinances for 10 months and 15 days,  to provide the City with the opportunity to research, review, and adopt permanent local regulations addressing both medical and recreational cannabis.

August 2017: The City hired Muni Services, a consulting firm to local governments with expertise in cannabis audit and consultative services to several localities in California, to assist the City in developing a comprehensive marijuana policy.

September 2017:  To help inform this discussion and promote community input, the City Council held a study session on issues pertaining to cannabis and local options for regulation at its meeting of September 11, 2017 (view the staff report and slides from the study session).  A panel of speakers presented at the workshop, including subject matter experts from the City Attorney's Office, Sonoma Police, City and Sonoma County Planning.  The goals of the workshop were to provide an overview on state regulations affecting cannabis (both recreational and medicinal) and options/issues/opportunities facing cities; inform the Council and the community about the status of regulations in the City of Sonoma; receive an update about the status of cannabis in Sonoma County and Sonoma Valley specifically; learn about status of other agencies in the region with respect to cannabis regulation; hear from law enforcement regarding cannabis; and understand policy options facing City of Sonoma.

November 2017:   The moratoria on personal recreational cultivation (indoor and outdoor) were extended by the City Council at its meeting of November 6, 2017, at which time the City Council also adopted an urgency ordinance prohibiting commercial cannabis activities within city limits, with the exception of medicinal cannabis deliveries from licensed dispensaries located outside of city limits. The allowance for deliveries was included as an interim step to provide access to medicinal cannabis, based on the comments received at the September 11th study session. This moratorium also included prohibitions on the cultivation of medicinal cannabis, using the same restrictions as those adopted for the personal cultivation of recreational cannabis. (Note: these actions had been scheduled for the meeting of October 23, 2017, but were postponed due to scheduling disruptions resulting from the October Fires.  For details view the Report of the review and development of regulations pertaining to cannabis).

December 2017:   At its meeting of December 4th, the City Council extended the temporary
moratorium on the cultivation of medicinal cannabis and commercial cannabis activities, and provided direction regarding the development of an ordinance establishing permanent regulations.

May 2018:  At its meeting of May 30,the City Council provided direction to staff regarding the development of permanent cannabis regulations, including: allowing the outdoor personal cultivation of three (3) plants with parameters; allowing medicinal cannabis deliveries from licensed dispensaries located outside of City limits; and prohibiting a medicinal dispensary, testing facilities and manufacturing facilities within the City limits.

September 2018: At the meeting of September 24th, the City Council introduced and conducted the first reading of an ordinance amending Title 19 of the Sonoma Municipal Code establishing definitions and standards for the personal and commercial cultivation of cannabis. During the discussion at the meeting, the draft ordinance was amended to eliminate the commercial portion of the proposed ordinance. The City Council then approved the revised ordinance which contained regulations for the personal cultivation of cannabis. This revised ordinance was brought back for second reading and adoption on October 1, 2018.

October 2018 (Personal Use Regulations): October 1, 2018 City Council voted to adopt an ordinance of the amending title 19 of the Sonoma Municipal code by establishing definitions and standards for the personal cultivation of cannabis. The ordinance is effective on November 30, 2018.

October 2018 (Commercial Regulations): At its meeting of October 22, 2018, the City Council approved the extension of an Urgency Ordinance continuing a temporary moratorium on commercial cannabis activities for six months. The extension of the moratorium allowed the City time to finalize permanent regulations regarding commercial cannabis activities.

November 2018: A public hearing and first reading of the Ordinance Prohibiting all Commercial Cannabis Activities (Except Medicinal Deliveries) was conducted on November 5, 2018 and the Council voted to adopt the Ordinance.  The second reading of the Ordinance was conducted at the November 19th meeting of the City Council.  The ordinance will be effective December 19, 2018.

February 2019: On February 4th, 2019, the City Council discussed their Planning Agenda for the upcoming months and directed staff to schedule a discussion for commercial cannabis in order to review policy direction.

Should the City Council decide to authorize a change in policy direction and approve commercial cannabis activities in the City, there are a number of actions that will need to be taken to move forward.

  1. Return to City Council for more specific policy direction on each of the items outlined above;
  2. Develop a commercial cannabis regulatory ordinance;
  3. Develop a merit-based application process and implement a fee cost recovery program;
  4. Develop and conduct application review, scoring, merit-based ranking, interviews and selection process assuming a limited number of businesses to be allowed; and
  5. Develop a commercial cannabis tax measure for the November 2020 election

At their meeting on February 20, 2019, the City Council approved a Resolution authorizing a contract with HdL Companies to provide cannabis management consulting assistance to augment staffing needs, see the staff report and proposal.

March/April 2019:  On March 4th and April 15th, the City Council provided guidance and direction on the preparation of Ordinances and  Resolutions needed to amend the Municipal Code to allow commercial cannabis businesses to operate within the City. The City Council reviewed proposed buffer maps near sensitive uses and a permitting process that will allow up to four cannabis businesses (2 dispensaries with only 1 retail storefront, 1 testing lab, 1 manufacturer). View the Commercial Cannabis Study Session Powerpoint Presentation from April 15, 2019.

June 2019:  On June 24, 2019, the City Council conducted a second reading and adopted an Ordinance adding Chapter 5.36 to the Sonoma Municipal Code (Ordinance 03-2019) permitting and regulating commercial cannabis businesses. This ordinance will go into effect on July 24, 2019 In summary, the following types and number of cannabis business are permitted in the City with a Commercial Cannabis Business Permit (CCBP):

  1. Dispensary or Retailer - maximum of one (1).
  2. Non-Store Front Retail Business - maximum of one (1).
  3. Testing laboratory - maximum of one (1).
  4. Manufacturing - maximum of one (1) (State License Type N or P only).

On June 30, 2019, the City Council conducted a second reading and adopted an Ordinance amending Title 19 of the Sonoma Municipal Code relating to commercial cannabis businesses and to permit such uses in specified zoning districts in coordination with the adoption of the new Commercial Cannabis Ordinance amending Title 5 of the Sonoma Municipal Code. This ordinance will go into effect on July 30, 2019.

December 2019:  The City Council adopted criteria for submittal requirements and the adoption of processing fees.  The RFP process was open from January 3 - February 21, 2020. For further information visit the Cannabis Retail RFP page.

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