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November 20, 2017
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Council members and attendees weigh in on draft of Cotati cannabis regulations

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
November 3, 2017

Last week’s Cotati City Council meeting saw interested cannabis manufacturers, residents and council members all try to sift through and weigh in on what aspects should be altered of the lengthy draft of the city’s cannabis growing and adult and medical use regulations — an ordinance that when passed will both help regulate and promote the growth of cannabis dispensaries and medical and adult use.

Cannabis use and manufacturing has been a big topic since the passing of Proposition 64 in 2016 by California voters, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Most recently in June of 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 94 — the Medical and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), which attempts to combine both medical and adult regulations into one bill.

Cotati’s drafted ordinance attempts to do the same. “Until we adopt our own set of land use regulations, whatever those end up being, our emergency ordinances will remain in effect,” explained Cotati Community Development Director, Vicki Parker.

Aspects of the city’s own drafted ordinance that were mostly discussed and debated during the meeting consisted of the operating hours and location limitations of cannabis businesses as well as the environmental footprint that dispensaries and manufacturers will have on Cotati.

Drafted regulations for commercial use state that there will be a “Maximum of two retail cannabis dispensaries Type 10 (a general dispensary permit); with allowance for one of these to be a Type 12 microbusiness (a license that only allows transportation of cannabis and related products),” and “As proposed, the two retail dispensaries are based on location with operator, can each have both adult and medical license.”

In addition to these regulations on license types, cannabis businesses could only be allowed in the Gravenstein Corridor zoned areas and would have either a 600 or 800 ft. buffer zone around that corridor, a concept that would try to keep dispensaries away from residential areas. The idea of allowing dispensaries in Cotati’s downtown area and near E. Cotati Avenue were considered, however, it was determined that that would be too close to residential homes.

“That left us with commercial Gravenstein where there is vacant land that could potentially be built and not be up against residential,” Parker said.

The city’s planning commission originally proposed that the cannabis business operating hours be limited to Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 12-5 p.m., however, after a second revision by the planning commission it is recommended that business hours remain 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday. 

“We originally proposed that they be the same as current dispensary regulations, but after some public input the planning commission expanded those Sunday operating hours,” Parker said of the change.

Cotati resident George Barich said while he had issues with the drafted bill, he had specific concerns regarding the proposed operating hours, saying he wouldn’t want cannabis customers looking for perhaps other nefarious ways or contacts in an effort to get marijuana after retail store hours.

“I also have issue with the dispensaries being limited to being open until 7 p.m. at night. I don’t want retail customers driving around Cotati to the bars, going to their contacts and trying to get marijuana at 7 o’clock at night. We don’t want that traffic in our neighborhood, we don’t want them dealing with those kinds of situations,” he said.

Another issue regarding future cannabis retail, was the lack of addressing the excessive water, electricity and infrastructure requirements within the draft regulations for businesses. While the regulations do address the fact that in the business’ application for a license, the applicants must be able to have little impact on water usage, which can be a hot spot resource issue for cannabis growers.

“With water supply, you mentioned this earlier, that if a proposed use used more water than that building typically would then it might not be an allowable use and I get the intent of this, we want to make sure this industry doesn’t become rapacious in its use of water beyond what we planned,” Vice Mayor Mark Landman said of the issue. “Cotati depends on groundwater for our water source and microbreweries in the area have found ways for water, so I wondered if we could take a thought on that.”

To address this concern, Parker said, “city staff could add a clause in the regulation,” to address this concern and that some manufacturers already make green business efforts such as using recycled water.

Steve Monahan, who purchased a parcel in the city and is interested in establishing a project/business, came to the meeting to offer support of the drafted ordinance as well as to address the environmental concerns of running a cannabis business.

Monahan has been working in the cannabis industry for five years and also has several “cultivation projects in Santa Rosa,” and says his projects make sure to use sustainable practices.

“We use a lot of sustainable practices like using LED lights, we recycle all of our water, we use renewable energy from Sonoma Clean Power…  Indoor cultivation is energy intensive and we work with PG&E to upgrade power to individual buildings and we do use LED technology and we try to be as efficient as we can,” Monahan said.

In terms of medical and adult use and home growing, the drafted law will allow a maximum of five indoor plants with no outdoor growing allowed due to crime and safety concerns and caregiving’s of medical marijuana patients would be able to cultivate plants for five patients — a total allowance of 30 plants on one parcel, all with the required permits.

After feedback from residents and industry experts, Mayor Susan Harvey approved of various aspects of the ordinance and provided suggestions for what changes to the draft should be considered.

“I am still concerned about the medical caregiver, 30 plants to me seems like a lot of plants. I am really concerned about that… I would like to see something done about that, it just seems like way too many plants,” Harvey said. “But I think we are going to learn a lot, when Cotati got its dispensary there was a lot of input and community concern and I think we’ve come a long way from that, we have loosened up things like the patient cap and the hours, so it seems to me we should have the same prudent approach here. As far as the retail space, I am OK with 2,000 square feet, I’m OK with the patient cap removal and it sounds like the 600 ft. buffer seems to be working for everyone.”

Next steps for the draft consists of developing a formal, final draft of the ordinance in November, which will then be taken through a public review process before going into effect in January when the city will start receiving and evaluating applicant permits and business licenses.