What's in the ordinance?

The Cannabis Ordinance was passed October 16, 2018 and has been updated twice. It is current law and remains in effect until a new or revised Ordinance is passed at the end of the ongoing Environmental Impact Review (EIR) slated for completion in 2024. The Cannabis ordinance is part of Chapter 26. SONOMA COUNTY ZONING REGULATIONS

Where is cannabis allowed?

Want to check the zone for a particular parcel? Look up Zoning Code information here.

What activities are permitted?

What are key provisions of the ordinance

Visual showing the key regulations that govern outdoor, mixed light, and indoor cultivationVisual showing key regulations that govern indoor regulation

What additional provisions exist?

  • Fire Code Requirements. A project requires a Fire Prevention Plan for construction and ongoing operations, including, but not be limited to: emergency vehicle access and turn-around at the facility site(s), vegetation management and fire break maintenance around all structures
  • Lighting. All lighting shall be fully shielded, downward casting and not spill over onto structures, other properties or the night sky. All indoor and mixed light operations shall be fully contained so that little to no light escapes. Light shall not escape at a level that is visible from neighboring properties between sunset and sunrise
  • Security and Fencing. A Site Security Plan is required. All Site Security Plans are held in a confidential file, exempt from disclosure as a public record
  • Air Quality and Odor. All indoor and mixed light cultivation operations and any drying, aging, trimming and packing facilities must be equipped with odor control filtration and ventilation system(s) to control odors, humidity, and mold. All cultivation sites shall utilize dust control measures on access roads and all ground disturbing activities. No provisions for controlling odor on outdoor grows
  • Water Source. On-site water supply must meet all uses on a sustainable basis. Trucked water shall not be allowed, except as provided in code. The onsite water supply is considered adequate if from the following sources: Municipal, recycle, surface, well, groundwater well.   Special rules apply to different groundwater zones (1,2,3,4)
  • Groundwater Monitoring. Water wells used for cultivation are monitored for level and quantity pumped.  Results are recorded quarterly and are self reported annually by the grower to the Permit and Resource Management Department
  • Health and Safety clause. Requires that no cannabis operation cause a public nuisance or adversely affect health and safety of neighbors, including from odor, noise, traffic or safety

Why is this so contentious?

Since the regulations were passed there has been extended - and at times acrimonious - debate about how exactly the ordinance should be interpreted and where cultivation can realistically be done. With a large percentage of the county theoretically open to cultivation and limited guidance on how to resolve the thorny and competing interests, several flashpoints have emerged.

4 years in and no one is happy

  • Cannabis community says the legal route is overly cumbersome, expensive and has very high uncertainty in terms of actually knowing where you will and won't be able to cultivate. Criteria have not been adopted to determine the areas of the county to be designated as an exclusion or inclusion zone; thus, determining if a location is suitable for cultivation falls in a gray area, in an already opaque permitting process.
  • Neighbors were told they could rely on "neighborhood compatibility" to protect their residential areas, but the ordinance failed to define it, is entirely unclear what falls under it, how it's measured, when something is incompatible and who gets to decide, and this has led to many of the clashes around where it's appropriate to site grows
  • Smaller growers who had previously been illegal but wanted to go legal had to massively increase the size of their grows just to justify the cost of going through legalization
  • Many of the original provisions of the ordinance were based on analogues from other industries (e.g. wine), since on-the-ground experience was lacking, thus provisions often don't mitigate real impacts -- for e.g. the ability of a 300ft setback to mitigate odors from a 44,000sq ft outdoor grow next to a residence
  • We're using code enforcement as legislation -- neighbors are told to monitor local grows and report violations if grievances are to be addressed by the county code enforcement. However, if the original permitting process did not identify specific mitigations, then it becomes impossible to prove a violation. And anything that can't be proven as a violation, de facto has no real legislation around it

In June of 2021 the Board of Supervisors instructed County Staff to conduct a full Environmental Impact Review ahead of drafting a revised ordinance. Read our full coverage of the ongoing Ordinance rewrite and EIR process here.

what else is being debated?

In addition to reworking the primary ordinance, the Board of Supervisors occasionally considers other, related cannabis topics. You'll see our detailed write ups on each of them below

Multi-tenant permitting

Sonoma County's ordinance created a loophole which allowed up to 4 ministerial grows  of cultivation -- 10,000 sq ft each or the equivalent of a 1 acre grow -- on a single parcel to be permitted without public input or CEQA review. In October 2021 the BOS imposed a moratorium on these "multi-tenant" grows. In June 2023, the BOS will vote to make the terms of the moratorium permanent.

Read our coverage here

Tax Moratorium

In February 2022, the cannabis industry requested a tax reduction for their 2021 and 2022 taxes

Read our coverage here

1000 ft setbacks

In February 2022, the unincorporated town of Bloomfield petitioned to have the ordinance amended to provide for 1000 ft setbacks in unincorporated towns