The Recent History of Permitting and Regulating Commercial Cannabis Activities in the City of Sonoma

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In Spring 2018, the City of Sonoma began discussing commercial cannabis regulation with its citizens at two Town Hall Meetings. In June 2018, after a Special City Council meeting on May 30, staff began to develop permanent cannabis regulations for the City of Sonoma. At the time, the proposed permanent cannabis regulations included: 

  • Allowing the outdoor personal cultivation of three (3) cannabis plants with parameters;
  • Allowing medicinal cannabis deliveries from licensed dispensaries located outside of City limits; and
  • Prohibiting a medicinal cannabis dispensary, testing facilities and manufacturing facilities within the City limits.

In September 2018, staff returned to the Planning Commission and the City Council and proposed their personal and commercial cannabis ordinances. By October 2018, the City of Sonoma adopted a Personal Use Cannabis ordinance (Ordinance No. 05-2018), which became effective November 30, 2018; and by November 5, 2018, the Council had voted to prohibit all commercial cannabis activities (aside from medicinal cannabis deliveries) within the city limits. The following personal cannabis cultivation activities are allowed within the City of Sonoma:

  • Indoor:  Personal cultivation of up to six (6) marijuana plants per residence is allowed, subject to restrictions. Applies to both medicinal and recreational grows. Limited to residential properties.
  • OutdoorA maximum of three (3) plants on no more than fifty (50) square feet in total per parcel with a private residence is allowed for outdoor cultivation of cannabis for personal use

Re-evaluating the Ban on Commercial Cannabis Activities

However, 2019 saw a changing of the tides in within the City of Sonoma as it relates to commercial cannabis activities. At the February 20, 2019 City Council Meeting, the Council directed staff to pursue commercial cannabis. On March 4, the City Council held a Study Session to learn more about commercial cannabis activities and to provide direction to staff to begin drafting a commercial cannabis ordinance. A second Study Session was held on April 15 at which further policy direction was provided by the City Council.

Proposed Limits for Cannabis Businesses in City of Sonoma

The City Council proposed a permitting process that would allow for a maximum of four commercial cannabis businesses within the City of Sonoma. Such businesses would include:

  • 2 Cannabis Retail Businesses: 1 Retail Storefront and 1 Retail Delivery Service
  • 1 Non-Volatile Cannabis Manufacturer: Type “N” (Infusions”) or Type “P” (Packaging & Labeling) Licensee
  • 1 Cannabis Testing Laboratory

As it currently stands, commercial cannabis cultivation, distribution, and microbusinesses would be not be permit-eligible uses within the City limits. 

Proposed Permitting Process for Cannabis Businesses in City of Sonoma

The permitting process for obtaining the right to operate a commercial cannabis business within the City of Sonoma would include

  1. a Conditional Certificate;
  2. a Conditional Use Permit or Use Permit; and
  3. a Commercial Cannabis Business Permit
  4. which City staff illustrated as shown below. 

Before the commercial cannabis business permitting process began, the City finalized its commercial cannabis ordinance. The Agenda Item Summary from the April 15 City Council meeting stated that:

In June, it is anticipated that the City Council will be in a position to consider the recommendation of the Planning Commission from its May 9, 2019, meeting on a draft commercial cannabis regulatory ordinance and conduct a first reading of the ordinance. Staff’s intention is to have the second reading approved also in June, so that the regulations can be adopted prior to July 1, 2019, pursuant to California Business & Professions Code section 26055(h).

Permitting and Regulating Commercial Cannabis Businesses in the City of Sonoma

The Commercial Cannabis Ordinance: Chapter 5.36 of Sonoma Municipal Code (Ordinance 03-2019)

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 [went into] effect on July 24, 2019

As per the April 15 Study Session discussed earlier, the following types and number of cannabis business are permitted in the City with a Commercial Cannabis Business Permit (CCBP):

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

Amending Title 19 and Title 5 of the Sonoma Municipal Code: Specified Zoning Districts for Commercial Cannabis Activities.

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 took effect on July 30, 2019.

Next Steps in Permitting and Regulating Commercial Cannabis Businesses in the City of Sonoma.

The Sonoma City Council is currently working on adopting criteria for submittal requirements as well as the adoption of processing fees for commercial cannabis businesses. This process is anticipated to be completed by October 2019.

If you have any questions about commercial cannabis permitting within the City of Sonoma, please contact Rogoway Law Group.  

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