Cannabis is a high valued product unlike any agricultural crop.   Cannabis can generate millions of dollars per acre, significantly more than the highest valued Ag crop (grapes) which brings in $20-30K per acre at best.    There is now big money behind cannabis, pushing our elected officials to weaken the laws and remove the public’s right to raise concerns over impacts to themselves and their neighborhood.   The likely result will be permanent changes to the character of our neighborhoods, to our larger community, and to our right to enjoy our property free from the impacts imposed by others.

There are many ways in which a commercial cannabis grow can impact communities.  Below are four areas


Cannabis uses significantly more water than most crops and it poses a threat to our water security

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There is nothing in the current ordinance to prohibit or regulate odor drifting onto a neighbor’s property. This can create an intolerable living situation, negatively affecting quality of life and lowering property values  

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The Security plan required by the ordinance is to safeguard only the cannabis grower, his property and his product.  These safety plans do not include protecting neighbors

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Visual Impacts

No other Bay Area county allows outdoor cannabis cultivation for good reasons. 24/7 commercial activity with many workers further destroys neighborhoods, and fields of white plastic hoop houses mar our hillsides

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Water use and the drought

Cannabis uses significantly more water than most crops. As cultivation expands in Sonoma County, the increased demand for water could have major impacts on our sensitive watersheds, neighboring wells, and competing uses

Cannabis is a water hog

Cannabis uses significantly more water than most crops and its unstudied use in Sonoma County poses a threat to our water security. A study commission by Napa County found cannabis uses 6 times more water than grapes. Their study showed water consumption for just one acre of cannabis production would be around 1,100,000 gallons per year, or 3.38 acre-feet per year. A Study by the University of Illinois found cannabis is thirstier than most conventional Ag crops. The preferred, most profitable cultivation methods are indoor/hoop house/mix light operations, which allows growing multiple crops year around. This results in major water draws during the driest times of the year.

Which has big impacts on our watersheds

Most cannabis operations rely on wells or stream ( Surface Water) diversions for their water. In the case of stream diversions, the existing legal water right dictates usage even if unsustainable. In the case of wells (ground water), water usage in  Zones 1 and 2 is automatically assumed by the ordinance to be  “considered adequate” period, regardless of any support. Water usage in Zones 3 and 4, area’s considered at high risk, water use is allowed if  “would not result in a net increase in water use”. This does not mean sustainable.  In many cases there is no documented baseline to reference, and no ongoing monitoring to assure the water table is protected. In 2021 Cannabis farmers in the Petaluma area were trucking in water, likely in violation of the law (This was reported to County who did not pursue), an indication the Cannabis Farms use exceeded supply.

While we're living through a drought

Sonoma County just experienced the two consecutive driest seasons on record and a third season is underway. Yet, the current model being used by the Sonoma County Water agency predicts this won’t happen again for 50 years! In August 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that droughts are the top climate change risk in Sonoma County. Potter Dam which supplies water to Sonoma County now has an uncertain future which could result in losing this source. Currently there are no limits on the number of cannabis operations, or the location of those operations, or the requirement for a net zero water plan or for a hydrological analysis. On top of this, Sonoma County has been assigned to build over 15K new homes, all requiring water. All these factors create a risk to the environment, the public’s water supply and a homeowner’s well. All of this expanded demand even as the State of California lists Sonoma County under “Extreme Drought.”

And don't know the extent of our future water availability

We currently do not know the state of our water quantity or quality. Sonoma County’s water analyses are woefully out of date and cannot be relied on: Temperature levels and rainfall patterns over the past 7-10 years are very different from historical 1980 data, and from the water assumptions used in our General Plan completed over 15 years ago. Even the Sonoma County Water Agency’s Water Supply Strategies Action Plan, developed in 2010, with a 2018 update does not reflect current climate-driven drought conditions. The planned 2023 update will provide the required baseline data for the Cannabis Program EIR as well as water analyses required to update the General Plan. Yet Sonoma County continues to build new homes, allowing new vineyards and new cannabis operations without having data to know the impacts or advocating for dry farming.

Read our latest coverage of Cannabis and Water here

Outdoor grows and odor generation

Cannabis has a very strong, skunk-like odor, day and night. This occurs from the flowering stage through harvest and again during processing. For multiple crops per year (e.g. with hoop houses), this odor can be problematic for 6 months or more. The smell is often overpowering, prevents neighbors from using their yards, opening their windows, and enjoying their property

The current setbacks inadequate to mitigate odor impacts

The current ordinance only requires a 100 ft. setback to a neighbor’s property line and 300 ft. to a home. Cannabis odor will travel significantly farther, onto a neighbor’s property! Depending on the size of the operation and wind conditions, odors have been reported to travel for more than a mile . No one knows how far the odor will stretch if the County permits cannabis grows larger than an acre. The most abundant terpenes in cannabis, beta-myrcene, is a Proposition 65 listed carcinogen. Neighboring parcels must not be forced to have exposure to this carcinogen in cannabis odors.

What are realistic solutions

Distance from an outdoor grow site is the only mitigation for odor. Minimum setback should be at least 1000 ft., more for larger grows or when down-wind.  Indoor and greenhouse grows should have odor filters to prevent odor from escaping their property and impacting neighbors. In all cases, the setback distances must be measured to a neighbor’s property line (not their home), as neighbors have full rights to use all their property.

The Odor Agreement between Santa Barbara growers and residences provides a model to follow:  Best Technology to be deployed for odor control and monitoring; No odor areas: (parks, businesses, day care centers, youth centers, schools, churches, and homes.  Residential parcels that are within 1,000 feet measured from the property line); Pursue the mutual goal that no significant odor be detectable beyond the operation’s property line; Measurable standards set; Formal process to report and correct odor problems. 


The Security Plan required by the ordinance is to safeguard only the cannabis grower, their property and their product.  There are no stipulations for protecting neighbors from accidental trespass, from added crime and from threats to their security in their own homes

Ordinance only focuses on the grower

The current ordinance allows a business to manufacture a product that requires a 24/7 security plan, yet can be within 100ft of a neighbor’s property. Security plans often involve 8ft high fences, security guards, guard dogs, 24 hour lighting, and barbed wire. The details of security plans are kept confidential, so neighborhoods have no way to assess the adequacy of the plan or measure the risks to themselves.  Further some growers have even argued that they should have guns on site to protect against theft.

A Cannabis operation is a highly profitable business (the Cannabis industry estimated 200 times more profitable than wine), with a product that easily converts to cash making it a high value target for criminals. In the press there have been cases reported where the criminals went to the wrong property and innocent people were harmed. The current ordinance allows a grow within 100 feet from a property line. This small distance means the wrong property could be targeted or robbers use a neighbor's property to access the grow. The growers security plan does not provide protection for their neighbors, or provide insurance or compensation to a neighbor who becomes collateral damage to a cannabis crime gone wrong.

East coast home invaders brutalize innocent neighbors of a former cannabis farm, kicking in doors and robbing and victimizing residents. Reporters attribute spate of criminal activity to county’s “open arms approach “to commercial cannabis.

Permitted in remote, poor service areas

In a hearing on the Purvine Rd application, Sheriff Essick was impressed with their security plan, but noted it would take 20 minutes for the Sheriff department to respond to any calls and they recommended the neighbors arm themselves if concerned. This highlights the risks being imposed to innocent bystanders.

Permitted next to unincorporated enclaves

A commercial cannabis operation will permanently change the character and feel of a neighborhood. No other business would require 24/7/365 security guards.

Negative effect on property values

Reporting on the effects of pot legalization on Colorado home prices, said, “homes within a half-mile of a cannabis business often have lower property value than homes in the same county that are farther out” and that “neighborhoods with grow houses are the least desirable, with an 8.4 percent price discount.”  

Selling and buying homes: Real Estate law requires disclosure of any activity that would likely impact a property value and use. A commercial cannabis operation nearby would likely fit this definition. A new Petaluma resident is pursuing such a suit against the realtor and previous property owner.

Visual impacts 

Growers bring in external soil, discard spent soil, shield plants from our natural climate in hoop houses or greenhouses, and surround their property with barb-wired security fencing and 24 hour lighting. No other Bay Area county allows outdoor cannabis cultivation for good reasons. Large scale, commercial operations with 24/7 commercial activity impacts scenic corridors, wildlife passage, and destroys nighttime darkness

Hoop houses

In order to maximize profits, multiple crops are planted throughout the year, with hoop houses becoming the preferred, most lucrative method.   Not a pretty sight! Not the vision of what an agricultural operation would look like in our rolling hills

Security fences and 24 hour lighting

The high value of cannabis brings high risk, resulting in the requirement for increased security in the form of fencing, lighting, alarms and security drones. Not a bucolic vision of what an agricultural operation existing in and being a part of the community looks or feels like in the landscape.

Impact on wildlife

The intensive land use required in cannabis cultivation, along with the sealing off of access to the property, effectively eliminates wildlife on or near the property.   The natural corridors that wildlife would normally travel are no longer viable.  The water use by cannabis can reduce water availability on nearby properties and creeks, again making survival difficult for many plants and animals.