The City of Healdsburg is in the early stages of outlining a draft ordinance that would allow either for a mix of commercial cannabis uses or for retail use only. There was also the option to consider an ordinance that would allow for various types of cannabis manufacturing within Healdsburg, however, the council was more in favor of looking at the possibility of mixed commercial use or retail. 

While this may be a small step in the long process that is establishing a city-wide commercial or retail cannabis ordinance, it’s a significant one for Healdsburg as previous city councils haven’t expressed much interest in the subject. Currently, all commercial cannabis operations are prohibited in Healdsburg.

While the city allows personal indoor cannabis cultivation, it’s taken a few years for the city to start discussing a cannabis operation policy — but a few public commenters marveled at the fact that the council was even having the conversation. Several Sonoma County cities, such as Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, have outpaced Healdsburg when it comes to talking about and making decisions on cannabis.

After getting their feet wet talking about different types of cannabis operations, concerns with outdoor grows, the consideration of on-site consumption, security concerns, zoning and other factors, Healdsburg City Manager Jeff Kay suggested a plan for moving forward and the council unanimously gave it the green light.

“What I would suggest at this point is that we charge ahead on a couple of things. One would be getting a survey out to the community and just give people in the community a chance to weigh in on these big picture questions before we start zeroing in on any particular policy,” he said. “I do agree we will need forums with the industry and additional opportunities for people to talk to us. So if there is support, we will charge forward with that.”

“In terms of next steps for council, I think putting together a draft ordinance would be a bit premature but what we could do is start to outline what one would like so there is at least something on paper for you to respond to,” Kay continued.

The survey will go out to residents in both English and Spanish likely within the next few weeks, according to Kay.

Before the city council and city manager settled on their next move, Kay provided an in-depth and informative staff report on cannabis.

The report included a history on cannabis policies and state legislation, a list of key terms and definitions, descriptions of different types of cannabis and cannabis operations and a rundown of what other cities in the county have done regarding cannabis policy.

The report also included four options for the council to consider:

• Alternative A - Mix of commercial uses. Return to council with an outline and later a draft ordinance for public and council review that: Allows storefront retail with a cap of two locations; allows non-volatile manufacturing and testing; allows delivery and distribution; identifies proper zones, applies distancing and buffer zones, requires use permits and a license via city staff and the planning commission; has equity provisions; includes a development agreement that collects fair revenue amount; and prepares a ballot measure on taxation for November, 2022.

• Alternative B - Retail only. Return to council with an outline and later a draft ordinance for public and council review that: Allows one to two storefront retail (consider delivery based on location of retail); identifies proper zone and requires a use permit and license; includes issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for potential providers; has equity provisions; includes a development agreement that collects fair revenue amount; and prepares a ballot measure on taxation for November, 2022.

• Alternative C - More like Cloverdale, Cotati or Sebastopol. Consider more aggressive approach than alternatives A and B and pursue one or more of the following: Allow both type 6 (non-volatile) and type 7 (volatile and non-volatile) manufacturing in proper industrial zones; allow commercial cultivation indoors; provide for more flexible personal cultivation amounts; equity provisions; determine taxation method.

• Alternative D - Make no changes to the current code.       

The biggest takeaway from the council’s comments was that whatever route they decide on, it needs to be unique to Healdsburg. Council members expressed support for options A and B. There was less support for options C and D.

Councilmember Ariel Kelley seemed open to both A and B and said she definitely wouldn’t want to pursue option D. Councilmember David Hagele said he was favored the retail side.

“I would tend to lean more toward the retail side and I don’t think it is a fit for the Plaza not from a visual standpoint. I think the dispensaries can look very good, however I believe dispensaries are more destination retail. A better location for them is in a shopping center, an industrial area or something like that,” Hagele opined.

He continued, “I want to understand the community impact first. A lot of other cities have done it, they need that revenue. I’m not saying we don’t need revenue, but I don’t want to lead with, ‘how much money are we going to make’? I think it needs to be the right fit for Healdsburg specifically.”

Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez and Councilmember Skylaer Palacios also seemed more open to both options A and B. Jimenez said he doesn’t want to prioritize cultivation or manufacturing within the city limits. 

There was also a council divide over on-site cannabis consumption. Palacios said she’d be more open to allowing on-site consumption if it was for culinary purposes only, rather than smoking, and Kelley agreed. Hagele and Jimenez both said they tend to lean against on-site consumption.

Also discussed among council was the desire to include local preference and an equity preference to encourage more diversity in business such as woman-owned businesses. There were also concerns and a torn feeling on whether or not to allow cannabis businesses around the Plaza and or in the downtown core, as well as concerns relating to parking and security. 

Mayor Evelyn Mitchell expressed the need for more community and expert input and the council agreed that garnering more input would be helpful.

Several local cannabis experts and a few residents did speak up virtually and in-person during the Nov. 18 meeting.

“My advice ... is to stick with retail, just at least right now given the market that California is in,” said Erich Pearson, the CEO of SPARC, a vertical cannabis organization that farms, manufactures, distributes and operates retail cannabis sales.

“Manufacturing/ cultivation is vastly oversupplied and there are very few small operators that are manufacturers, distributors and even labs that are having a very easy time right now in the market, and that’s just because there’s an oversaturation,” he said.

In terms of looking at the community impact of retail cannabis businesses, Pearson said the City of Sonoma asked to see community benefit programs in the RFP process for finding cannabis retail providers. He said these community benefits could include a compassion program for low-income seniors who can’t afford cannabis, local hire requirements or nonprofit donations.    

Erin Gore, the founder and CEO of The Garden Society, a craft cannabis pre-rolls and edibles microbusiness that operates out of Cloverdale, thanked the city council for having the conversation about cannabis. She said it’s been years in the making.

“The big thing I want to make sure you guys use is us as an industry to make sure that whatever you do is operational with actually how we operate. If you do manufacturing without distribution that means you can’t do testing and that means you’ve incurred costs in your business, so there’s a lot of nuances to the structure of the licenses that really matter to how to run your business,” Gore said. “There’s also opportunity with something called the microbusiness, which is allowed for a stacked license. It gives a new business, a less well-funded business, a chance of success without having to compete with so much capital … When you talk about equity it’s really important that you structure it in a way for those people to be successful.”

Ingrid Tsong, who cultivates organic cannabis in Mendocino County with her husband but lives in Healdsburg, said they’re getting pummeled by the industry.

“One of our rays of hope as local community members is having a place to do the farm to table thing that seems to bring everyone to Healdsburg on the weekends for the community and to have a local outlet for our product. We’d really like to connect the dots between where we live and how we farm,” Tsong said.    

Healdsburg resident Matt Humphrey said that cannabis retailers or commercial businesses should be kept away from the Plaza and the downtown core and said he wouldn’t want people smoking in the Plaza.

A Healdsburg parent who didn’t mention his name, said it is important that the council allows cannabis in Healdsburg and agreed with the council that whatever route they choose, the business or retailer should be unique to Healdsburg.     

Following the public comments, Hagele stuck to his desire of starting out with retail and said he’d like to see more community outreach and discussion in order to help shape and guide cannabis policies.

Jimenez said he was still hesitant about the idea of having a cannabis program in the downtown core and said it is important that families continue to feel welcomed in the Plaza.

There were also many other considerations and questions among the council. The Thursday meeting showed that this was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussing and establishing cannabis policies in Healdsburg.

The cannabis discussion will return to the city council at a later date.

Staff Writer

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine has been a staff writer with The Healdsburg Tribune and SoCoNews for over two years. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism.

(1) comment


This should be interesting. A place where there seems to be a wine tasting room on each block in the downtown area will be discussing these businesses.--watch, they will be regulated to the outskirts, unlike the tasting rooms.

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