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Sonoma and Marin take different approaches to dispensaries

In 2016, voters in California legalized recreational cannabis for adults, sparking a rush of entrepreneurs who wanted to enter the new legal market.

Legalization was intended to uplift those affected by decades of cannabis criminalization, but the rollout has not been the same statewide. Local governments are empowered to decide whether or not to allow cannabis businesses to operate, resulting in a complex patchwork of regulations.

Cannabis industry insiders often argue that extensive licensing processes and regulations block many people legalization was meant to help, leaving business opportunities to those with the money and the political savvy to reap the benefits. legalized weed.

A version of this dynamic is playing out in North Bay. While Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, has embraced cannabis companies as a new source of tax revenue, Marin County and its cities have hampered the spread of traditional cannabis businesses.

Marin County

It’s ironic that Marin’s ordinances ban recreational cannabis storefronts, as the county claims to be home to the country’s first licensed marijuana dispensary. The Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana opened in Fairfax in 1997, a year after California passed Proposition 215, an initiative that legalized medical marijuana.

Federal laws, however, prohibit the sale of marijuana, and owner Lynnette Shaw was forced to close the dispensary in 2011. Shaw fought the federal government for the right to stay in business.

“I spent 20 years in court as a test case to shut down the marijuana industry,” Shaw said. “My case was decisive. And I won.

Shaw reopened the medical marijuana dispensary in 2017, in the same Fairfax office building it previously occupied. Now called the Marin Alliance Cannabis Buyers Club, it remains the only in-person dispensary in Marin County, although several cannabis companies offer a delivery service to residents.

That status could change in November 2022, when voters in Sausalito decide whether or not to allow a recreational cannabis storefront and delivery operation within city limits. Sausalito’s local ordinances ban all cannabis businesses; however, the sponsors of the ballot measure made a final round by collecting the signatures of 10% of the electorate, forcing the city to act. City council could either authorize the opening of cannabis businesses or pass the issue on to voters.

In a 3–2 vote in July, council members put the measure on the ballot. The tight vote appears to reflect the sentiment of Marin residents, who are divided over whether recreational cannabis businesses are county owned.

The ballot measure was sponsored by Karen Cleary, a resident of Sausalito, one of three owners of Otter Brands, a company keen to open a retail cannabis dispensary in Sausalito. The other two owners are Sausalito CrossFit owner Mike Monroe and Seattle resident Conor Johnston.

Johnston is no stranger to politics. A former chief of staff to London Breed when she was chair of the San Francisco board of directors, he was also a strategic advisor for her mayoral campaign. Today, Johnston owns Berner’s on Haight, a cannabis dispensary in San Francisco. He has been courting officials and residents of Sausalito since 2018 on behalf of Otter Brands.

The owners of Otter Brands surely had their eye on the price when they crafted the very specific provisions of the voting initiative. For example, the measure requires that before April 20, 2021, the applicant has expressed interest in opening a cannabis retail store at a city council meeting, met individually with at least three members of the council and organized at least two community meetings. Otter Brands has met all of these conditions and the many others listed to the measure.

“Otter might as well have put his name on the initiative of the poll,” said Laurie Dubin, a relative from Larkspur.

Dubin belongs to several local organizations that oppose recreational dispensaries, including Marin Residents for Public Health Cannabis Policies. Concerns revolve around the high THC potency of products, the commercialization of the industry and the use of cannabis by young people.

A person must be 21 years of age or older to enter a dispensary. However, Dubin maintains that teens buy cannabis products with fake IDs. She is also concerned that if the Sausalito initiative passes, it opens the door to voting measures throughout Marin. Stores will appear everywhere, she said.

Johnston says licensed dispensaries have no impact on adolescent use, citing a 2021 study by D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University. According to Johnston, regulating cannabis is the safest route.

Getting the measure on the Sausalito ballot was a big undertaking for Johnston, a four-year process at election time. Johnston says he has no plans to do it elsewhere in Marin.

“Ultimately this is all going to sound quaint,” said Johnston. “San Rafael and Novato and other towns in Marin will have dispensaries.

Sonoma County

After the legalization of recreational weed, Santa Rosa aspired to become a cannabis hub.

The idea seems pretty obvious. Producers in the historic Emerald Triangle would ship their products to Highway 101 for quality testing and manufacturing in Santa Rosa, before the products are sent south to dispensaries in the Bay Area or the Southern California.

As of May 2018, just over a year after the market opened, 38 companies had applied for retail permits, although only three were immediately approved. A total of 44 other companies were vying for distribution, manufacturing, testing and cultivation open within city limits by May 2018, according to a report from the city that year.

Sudden demand for industrial warehouse space drove rents from about $ 1.00 per square foot to $ 2.00 per square foot in one year. Today, the city of about 175,000 people has 12 licensed dispensaries operating within the city limits and a few more are in the works, said Kevin King, a city spokesperson.

In 2017, voters in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa passed tax measures targeting cannabis companies. Last year, Santa Rosa brought in nearly $ 1.9 million in tax revenue from the budding business sector. The majority of the money, nearly $ 1.1 million, came from dispensaries.

Eddie Alvarez, the owner of The Hook dispensary who was elected to Santa Rosa City Council last year, has been involved in the cannabis industry for decades. Alvarez argues that lowering economic barriers to entering the legal market is a form of fairness. But now, with cities across the state competing for the cannabis business, Alvarez fears Santa Rosa’s role in the state’s cannabis industry is diminishing.

“For a very long time, I saw Santa Rosa as the Mecca of the mota. I don’t know where it happened, but Los Angeles started to take a progressive stance and I saw it slip away from us, ”Alvarez said, using a slang term for cannabis.

The most obvious marker of change came in May when the Emerald Cup, a long-standing annual industry conference in Santa Rosa, announced it would move its 2022 event to Los Angeles.


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