About forty members of the public joined the City Council Cannabis Policy Subcommittee on January 11 to voice their concerns about the permit and dispensary application processes, downtown zoning and cannabis delivery.
It was agreed that permits should be issued on the basis of merit, rather than on a first come, first served basis, or via a lottery system. Permits will be approved as quickly as possible, and tracked on the city website.
Downtown zoning was next on the agenda. Janet Rogers of the Chamber of Commerce Downtown Action Organization of Santa Rosa was one of two people present who objected to allowing cannabis businesses to operate downtown. “The Downtown Action Organization is unanimously opposed to this because of the risks and the impacts of unknowns,” says Rogers. “Right now, there’s a lot of momentum in our downtown, with lots of good restaurants and a new hotel going in. We just don’t feel this is the right time to bring this type of development into the downtown.”
The majority of citizens speaking at the meeting were in favor of embracing cannabis-based businesses in downtown Santa Rosa.
“We listen to retailers and downtown merchants crying for bloody mercy, for more reasons for people to come downtown,” said business owner Zack Darling. “And I think that this would bring an attractive population. It would bring in additional tourism, and it would continue to solidify Santa Rosa as the gateway to the Emerald Triangle.”
Sarah Shrader of Americans for Safe Access pointed out that as a transportation hub, Santa Rosa could provide easy access for patients who really need the healing benefits of cannabis. She was not the only person who drew attention to the number of adult recreational intoxicants already available downtown.
“Having cannabis banned in the downtown area, when we have micro-breweries, bars and smoke shops makes me feel like a criminal just for having fibromyalgia, which is a condition I don’t get to choose,” said Shrader.
Other speakers brought attention to the differences between raucous drinkers and what they said were mellow, respectful, cannabis users.
Overall, the majority of people at the meeting were eager to get their permits and open up shop, or to provide delivery services. At first the committee favored only allowing deliveries from companies with a storefront, but Debra Tsouprake of Greenheart Alternative Healthcare stressed the difficulty of finding a small retail space. “I want to be able to continue to deliver whether I have a storefront or not because I go to the patients who can’t get to the dispensaries,” she said. “I don’t want to be taken out by big corporates.”
It was decided that smaller companies might not be required to have a storefront.
With so many people vying to get into the legal cannabis trade, it seems likely that Santa Rosa will be able to select the most qualified and responsible businesses. The City of Santa Rosa hopes to emerge as a leader in the regulation of commercial cannabis, which in turn will give businesses the confidence to pursue the expensive and time-consuming permit process.
“Hands down Santa Rosa is ahead of the curve throughout the state,” says Nick Caston of Pacific Expediters Consulting Services, a compliance and state advocacy company. “There are very few other jurisdictions that have been as thoughtful and as comprehensive in their consideration of the land use and tax ordinances that they’ve put in place. And the city council’s consistency in collaboration across all members of the council has given good confidence for businesses that there is not going to be the political uncertainty that you can find in more controversial and contentious areas of the state.”
Santa Rosa’s Comprehensive Cannabis Ordinance goes into effect on January 19, but local businesses are still working on compliance and permitting and will be open to purchases for adult use as those issues are resolved.