Now that Proposition 64 has become law, it's time to focus on how Sonoma County might implement it. There are several parts of the law that are effective immediately and some will take a few years to implement.
Of immediate importance is how quickly the courts in Sonoma County can begin to process the applications of people who wish to reduce cannabis felony convictions to misdemeanors. The district attorney has the right to oppose these petitions, so their response is critically important. Allowing those with cannabis felonies to get them reduced and removed from their criminal records will positively affect the lives of many people in Sonoma County.
For those who wish to grow for themselves, it's important to remember that the county, and the cities within it, have the right to ban outdoor growing of the allowed six personal plants. Looking at the proposed ordinance for medical cannabis, I don't expect Sonoma County to do that, although it may try to reduce it to three plants. Such a move would likely be illegal, but watch for it. Also, some cities within the county are famously anti-cannabis, so be on the alert for a complete ban.
Although Proposition 64 opens up a massive new market, many questions remain. Will the county and cities allow more dispensaries? What about other adult-use businesses? Will the rules for adult-use cannabis mirror those proposed for medical? Will law enforcement start referring complaints regarding cannabis to code enforcement instead of diverting law enforcement to those complaints? Will additional requirements above and beyond the state requirements for health and safety, environmental protections, testing, security, food safety or worker protections be imposed? Remember that under Proposition 64 a person will not be able to get a state license if approval will violate any local ordinance, including land-use rules.
One area that is often overlooked is the creation of an industrial hemp market. Hemp is an amazing agricultural product that has enormous potential for the economy and the environment. Will Sonoma County take advantage of this opportunity? I doubt it. Industrial hemp will likely be concentrated in the Central Valley or other areas of the state where farmers can buy reasonably priced land.
The potential for Proposition 64's positive economic impact on Sonoma County is enormous. But this will only come to fruition if the county allows the industry to develop without regulating and taxing it to death before it even starts. Proposition 64 gives a lot of control to local governments and the success, or failure, of this brand-new industry will largely depend on how they exercise this power.
Ben Adams is a local attorney who concentrates his practice on cannabis compliance and defense.