Seizing on a pair of recent cannabis-related home-invasion robberies in Sonoma County, neighborhood activists Tuesday called on the Board of Supervisors to tighten restrictions on pot farming despite strong resistance from industry representatives.
Critics cited particular concerns about one operation moving forward near their homes in Penngrove, but they called for major changes to the county’s overall approach to cannabis in light of the pot-related invasions by East Coast gunmen into three homes west of Petaluma before dawn Monday.
That incident came little more than a month after two Feb. 8 pot-related home invasions outside Santa Rosa left one man dead and another wounded.
Intruders found no cannabis at any of the locations in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma invasions, though there was evidence that pot cultivation and sales had taken place at one of the Santa Rosa homes, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“How many more of these need to happen before the board takes some kind of measure to revamp the ordinance that we have?” asked Penngrove resident Chuck Pinnow. “How many people have to die, how many bullets have to go into homes, nurseries, living rooms before anything is done?”
Yet cannabis farmers and industry advocates who turned out to the board meeting in force warned additional burdens would only hamper a business the county has worked for years to bring out of the shadows.
Lauren Mendelsohn, a local cannabis attorney, asked supervisors to “stand firm” in their decision to allow commercial pot farming in agriculturally zoned areas and resist neighborhood activists’ calls to confine cultivation to industrial areas. Mendelsohn also sought to distance law-abiding cannabis farmers who are going through the county’s permitting process from the recent home invasions.
“As tragic as that is, there’s no evidence that any of the houses that were recently victimized were part of this permit program,” Mendelsohn said. “Licensed properties must have security measures in place that are designed to prevent that.”
Beyond restricting commercial cultivation to industrial zones, cannabis critics also want supervisors to stop issuing commercial growing permits until they revise the county’s pot rules. And they’re seeking a cap on the number of cultivation permits the county will issue.
“Residents voted to legalize marijuana for adult use — they did not vote to have them in their neighborhoods next door to where they raise their families,” said Penngrove resident Cindy Schellenberg.
Supervisor Susan Gorin — who led Tuesday’s board meeting because Chairman James Gore is visiting disaster-affected areas in Florida and Puerto Rico this week — said she hoped to address some of the concerns during a cannabis-related discussion at the April 10 board meeting.
Gorin also read a statement from the office of Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents Petaluma and Penngrove but was on a lobbying trip in Washington, D.C. The statement said Rabbitt was engaged “very thoughtfully and carefully” and he was “looking forward to a robust discussion on cannabis issues, especially in light of yet another home invasion.”
Supervisor Shirlee Zane described the home invasions as “terrifying” and called on the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s office to calculate how much resources they devote to fighting cannabis-related crimes, data she hoped could inform the board’s future deliberations.
“There’s a lot of good players in the cannabis industry, but there’s some awfully bad ones, too,” Zane said. “For your sake, you want the bad ones out of there.”
The county’s current cannabis rules already place a heavy burden on the industry, supporters said. Caren Woodson, compliance director for SPARC Peace in Medicine, told supervisors pot farmers must invest “a literal fortune” just to get a permit and are “guaranteed nothing” even if they receive one from the county.
“Success requires us to accept compromise, and that means accepting things that we do not all like,” Woodson said. “Most of all, success requires us to address real problems, not the perception of them. … Righting a century of bad policy is not easy, but it’s the righteous thing to do, and I appreciate your effort.”