Until this week, cannabis growers could skirt the county’s limits on grows of more than 10,000 square feet by acquiring permits for adjacent smaller plots. The County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors closed that loophole with a 45-day interim ordinance prohibiting ministerial permits for multi-tenant commercial cannabis cultivation in unincorporated Sonoma County.
Previously, separate ministerial zoning permits could be issued to different applicants co-locating on the same property as long as they were not members of the same family or connected to the same business.
A ministerial permit is one that’s issued without a public hearing — essentially an ‘over the counter’ transaction. But the county decided that the system was not ensuring the kind of multi-tenant operations that the Board intended when it reduced barriers to the legal market for small community-based farmers, said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, board chair.
“There are instances of multi-tenant applicants applying for ministerial permits together on three or four contiguous parcels when a grow of the same size would require a conditional use permit if proposed by one applicant, including appropriate environmental review and public input,” Hopkins said.
The moratorium on ministerial permits will allow time for staff to review issued permits and upcoming renewals, and develop recommendations for a standard of review.
There are currently 85 ministerial zoning permits issued for 20 different multi-tenant cultivation sites, and 61 ministerial cultivation applications in process. Ministerial permits are not reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act and do not provide for public comment or administrative appeal.
All multi-tenant permits set to expire during the 45-day moratorium will be extended. New applicants seeking to co-locate separate commercial operations on a single parcel will need to apply for a conditional use permit, consistent with requirements for a single applicant for the same parcel size and cultivation area.
Ministerial permits may still be issued to applicants proposing a single cultivation operation on one parcel.
In accordance with state law, the Board of Supervisors can extend the 45-day interim ordinance for up to 22 months and 15 days. Policy recommendations for multi-tenant commercial cannabis permitting are expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 26, 2021.
For more information about the interim urgency ordinance prohibiting ministerial permits for multi-tenant commercial cannabis cultivation, or for general questions regarding the Sonoma County Cannabis Program, please call (707) 565-2431, email [email protected] or visit https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/cannabis-program/.