The Sonoma City Council decided Tuesday not to place a certified pro-cannabis petition on the November ballot, opting instead to study the impacts of the dispensary business on the town.
The timing of the decision means the proposed ordinance, which would have allowed the retail sale of cannabis within city limits, will not come before the Sonoma voters for least two years, if at all.
To qualify for the ballot, Jon Early (pictured) collected the requisite number of signatures (about 700). The process was then vetted by both the city and county officials. The final procedural step was to have the city council sign off, sending the measure to the November ballot.
Instead, “they kicked the can down the road,” Early said.
The study, which could cost up to $25,000 according to City Manager Cathy Capriola, is to be completed in 30 days, which is after election filing deadlines.
Legally the Council had one other choice on Tuesday night — adopt the ordinance as city law, and avoid the election altogether. That option was never seriously considered.
Councilmember Rachel Hundley said she supports the concept of cannabis dispensaries in town, but didn’t like the specific details of Early’s proposal. “This is bad for Sonoma,” she said.
Councilmember Amy Harrington said that although she did not like the proposed ordinance, it should be placed on the ballot. “I have 100 percent faith in the voters to figure this out,” she said. “Let’s honor the ordinance process.”
Councilmembers cited concerns about parking, traffic, public safety and taxation, which will be study-points of the impending survey.
Members seemed uncomfortable with the fact that Early might benefit from the plan — he’d like to open a dispensary on West Napa Street (in the vacant Community Cafe complex).
The measure had numerous exclusion zones to avoid areas near schools and parks, for example. Early said his is one of about 10 commercial properties that meet all requirements.
Hundley said she’s like to see the city cap the number of dispensaries, and work closely with “a small, local operator.”
Councilmember Gary Edwards said he’d like to see the city get new tax revenue, but was not optimistic about the industry’s potential. “I don’t see the business model working out.”
Conceivably, the study (the city’s second) could lead to the city passing its own ordinance, or drafting new language for a ballot measure in November of 2020.
That delay, and the cost, did not thrill members of the public, about 10 of whom offered comment.
“We’ve studied this thing to death,” said Chris Petlock.
“It’s time to move on,” added Michael Coates. “This feels like settled law to me.”
Harrington said, “I’d rather not spend a penny on another survey. Let’s spend $25,000 on school supplies.”