Landmark step to expand legal marijuana trade in Santa Rosa

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Santa Rosa took the next step Thursday night in embracing and regulating the recreational marijuana industry.

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend adoption of new rules that would govern nonmedical cannabis businesses inside the city, including retailers, and set limits to govern noncommercial cultivation of marijuana by residents.

With less than 50 days before the trade in recreational pot becomes legal in California, the moves make Santa Rosa the first city in the state to outline governance for both medical and non-medical cannabis businesses and use, according to Nick Caston, board member and spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association’s Sonoma County chapter.

 The proposed set of rules, including expanded uses for medical cannabis operators, are headed for a decision by the City Council next month. The Planning Commission recommending merging existing rules covering the medicinal industry with new policies that would also govern the recreational trade and use.

“The state has just been shrinking the distinctions between the two and I agree with the public,” said Chairwoman Patti Cisco. “We don’t have the staff time to go through another vetting process, especially if we’re just going to end up in the same place.”

Added Commissioner Julian Peterson: “It makes sense to treat the same product the same, regardless of what it’s used for.”

“I would just like to ask the city to add adult use to the ordinance,” Dustin Gibbens, a Santa Rosa resident and owner of 965 Solutions, a medical cannabis manufacturer currently in build out, said before the vote. “Almost a year ago today, the voters passed Prop. 64, and it just makes sense to get this done now. Let’s get this done and get going.”

The recommended set of rules going to the City Council include distance requirements for businesses locating within the vicinity of schools and guidelines meant to prevent over-concentration of cannabis outlets.

Non-commercial cultivation limits would be set at six plants per residence, and those plots cannot be adjacent to a school.

Pot advocates called the commission’s Thursday night decision momentous.

“Santa Rosa has just taken a substantial step toward to making the statewide system feasible by enabling entire supply chains,” said Caston, who works as chief strategic officer for Pacific Expeditors, a Santa Rosa-based cannabis consultancy. “This is an absolute victory for a healthy commercial cannabis industry.”

The City Council is expected to review the recommendations at its Dec. 12 meeting. Given approval, the comprehensive policy would then go into effect by no later than February.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at On Twitter @kfixler.