The County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors this week approved $370,000 in one-time funds to speed up progress on the backlog of cannabis permit applications, as well as for public outreach and staff support in developing cannabis policy goals as the basis for an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act.
On May 18, the Board voted 5-0 to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation to adopt the Commercial Cannabis Cultivation in Agricultural and Resource Areas Ordinance, also known as Chapter 38. That set of rules would have streamlined permitting for cannabis cultivation within Agricultural and Resource zoned parcels in Sonoma County.
Instead, with the new vote, the Board committed to addressing the backlog of permit requests while maintaining due diligence for the review process and environmental concerns.
Staff capacity to review cannabis permits has suffered due to the demands of recovery from successive natural disasters, said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
“This investment will help expedite the backlog, support the environmental due diligence necessary for developing responsive cannabis policy, and avoid delay and disruption of other planning projects and regular department operations,” said Hopkins. “Endless timelines due to limited staff capacity harm both growers and neighbors who need clarity about whether pending projects are permissible or not.”
Permit Sonoma public workshops to collect stakeholder input regarding cannabis cultivation in Sonoma County are expected to begin in August, with Board policy workshops expected to begin in September. Based on that input, an updated draft ordinance could be ready in early 2022, and a draft Environmental Impact Report in the fall of 2023.
A Planning Commission hearing on the proposed revised ordinance could take place in spring 2024 followed by a Board hearing on the new ordinance in summer 2024.
In addition to the one-time use of Cannabis Program funds, County officials anticipate pursuing an application for the state’s Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant program, which includes one-time funding of $100 million to aid local governments in processing application workloads and expediting resolution of provisional permits. This funding opportunity is contingent on official adoption of the state budget, according to Hopkins.