WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa to relax restrictions on pot dispensaries


Santa Rosa is set to relax its restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries, including removing the 500-patient cap and extending the hours of operation.

The changes the City Council will consider Tuesday are in response to concerns from medical cannabis providers and their patients that the rules in place for the last eight years are overly burdensome.

Jake Donham removes some of the marijuana clones for quality control at the Peace in Medicine medical Marijuana dispensary in Santa Rosa on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Jake Donham removes some of the marijuana clones for quality control at the Peace in Medicine medical Marijuana dispensary in Santa Rosa on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

“Medical cannabis is legal in California, and our rules are really quite restrictive,” said Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, who served on a subcommittee that unanimously recommended the changes.

In 2005, Santa Rosa was the first city in Sonoma County and one of the first in the state to pass laws governing medical marijuana dispensaries, which began sprouting up statewide after voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

Because Santa Rosa was one of the first to act, it did so cautiously. Only two dispensaries were approved, each with a 500-patient limit. A host of other regulations covered hours of operations, signage and proximity to schools and parks.

Collectively, those regulations have had the effect of keeping a lid on medical marijuana sales in the city.

The patient cap has meant that many residents have to go outside the city to make their purchases, an inconvenience for patients and a loss of tax revenue for the city.

“The 500-patient cap is a problem,” said Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine dispensary and mayor of Sebastopol. “It doesn’t make much sense.”

Santa Rosa is one of only two cities in the state with a patient cap, the other being Cotati, which has a 1,000-patient limit.

The result is that after the two dispensaries in the city — Peace in Medicine on North Dutton Avenue and Sonoma Patient Group on Cleveland Avenue — make their 500th sale for the month, patients have to go to dispensaries in other cities or to one of several that have sprung up just outside city limits.

That’s a lot of lost revenue for Sonoma Patient Group, which has 7,000 patients, said David McCullick, vice president of the dispensary.

“It’s really tough for us to even break even,” McCullick said.

The cap would be removed under the new rules, with the city retaining the right to limit the number of patients if problems are reported in surrounding neighborhoods or businesses.

The length of dispensary permits would also be increased under the new rules. After an initial one-year permit period, permits would thereafter be valid for two years assuming operations comply with local and state laws.

The allowable hours of operation would also be extended to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Hours are currently limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and closed on Sundays and state holidays.

Many patients work until after 5 p.m., and Sunday is a popular day for people to get errands done, Jacob said.

The new rules will also allow dispensary workers to use marijuana on the job, but only by ingestion or use of a vaporizer and only outside the view of the public. Smoking will not be allowed. Since dispensary workers are required to be medicinal marijuana patients, preventing them from taking their legal medication would have potentially violated their rights, Carlstrom said.

Another change will be to allow dispensaries to dedicate up to 150 square feet of space to the sale of devices to help patients consume the cannabis they purchase. It makes no sense to sell cannabis to patients but then tell them they need to go to a head shop to buy the rolling papers, pipes or vaporizers needed to administer their medicine, Jacob said.

He doesn’t expect to sell a wide array of devices. “The last thing we want is to have a big bong display case,” Jacob said.

Plenty of restrictions will remain, however. Dispensaries still cannot be located within 500 feet of a youth-oriented facility, such as a day-care, school or park. And while dispensary signs will be allowed to be larger, they still cannot “contain any logos or information that identifies, advertises or lists the specific products or services offered by the dispensary.”

While it may seem odd to prevent a business from advertising its products, Carlstrom said the prohibition shows respect to dispensaries’ neighborhoods and serves to draw a clear distinction with recreational marijuana use.

“I think it reflects a bit of an uneasy truce with medical cannabis,” Carlstrom said. “For now, I think it’s a nice balance.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)

11 Responses to “Santa Rosa to relax restrictions on pot dispensaries”

  1. brown act jack says:

    Oh, heck, it will all work out in the end, but the end really might be the creation of brothels for health purposes and which will include in their services , the sale and consumption of various narcotics , all for the purpose of health and disease control.

    Santa Rosa, the Vacation spot of the nation, where we treat you fairly and provide health services that you need.

    Bring your self to the glory spot of wine, women, and happy dust, consumed and taxes paid to support our city!

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  2. Francis says:

    If smoking tobacco is a hazard to your health, why is smoking pot considered a medical benefit? I would bet most pot smokers are former or current cigarette smokers.

    Pot is illegal and there is a very good reason for it being illegal. It is a drug, bad for you and your health. It has a very annoying smell that affects those unfortunate enough to be near a pot user.

    Pot has won the support of liberals who like all things antisocial.

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  3. Grapevines says:

    Good “Ol-Boy” Press Democrat trying to report this as a progressive and positive item. What is really driving this “imitative” is that some goof ball in the city had a spark happen.

    “Gee duh, if we relax the restrictions, then we may obtain more tax revenue to waste.”

    Now lets go and order a whole new set of parking meters for downtown and force people to go shopping at the box stores that offer free parking.

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  4. bear says:

    We are fanatically devoted to the wine industry, and openly advertise wine, beer and hard spirits on TV. Not to mention fast food.

    Why should marijuana not be grown and promoted in the same way as alcohol?

    If you gave me a choice when driving along a dark, two-lane road between alcoholic wine tasters and potheads, I’d take the potheads every time.

    Why? Because paranoia trumps arrogance.

    Not that either are good. And I don’t recommend that the two be combined.

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  5. The Hammer says:

    People who use this crap will come up with every excuse in the book why they should have it. I find it sad what these people are doing to us as a civilization.

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  6. bear says:


    Just like the wine and alcohol and fast food industries, which advertise on TV.

    Rather than incarcerate local growers, I’d turn it into a boutique industry – just exactly like wine.

    The cartels should just go away, and would if Americans took over their markets.

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  7. straight arrow says:

    Federal law trumps all. Those laws on marijuana have to be changed FIRST before any state laws can be enacted properly and then local laws such as this can happen. This is cart before the horse territory.

    On a completely personal level, I do believe that there are valid medical benefits to marijuana use. It just seems like most users just seem to want to get stoned. And I do know people who are totally addicted to pot. Their lives are quite sad.

    I for one am highly allergic to pot. Even third-hand (the smell of the smoke on a person or object) makes me extremely nauseous. So remember that the pot that makes you feel so good makes me ill.

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  8. James Bennett says:

    The two fronts yet to be reduced to fascist frontiers:

    The internet and the cannabis industry. As they have both proven difficult to monopolize.

    Both provide for organic free market capitalism. Forums in which individuals can provide a service, information or product directly to another.

    Don’t want that, TPTB don’t control it enough. That’s not the new American way.

    In the interim, they keep State and Federal law ambiguous, they contradict each other.

    This way, they can continue to feed the huge corporate prison monster that we pay private concerns to perpetuate.

    Could it be that public engagement has influenced policy a little?


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  9. R.B. Fish says:

    What a scam!

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  10. Follower says:

    It’s amazing how long it’s taken for the “war on drugs” to finally begin admitting this defeat. How many billions have we watched go up in smoke financing this ridiculous charade? How many lives have been ruined because someone got caught with a bag of weed?

    I don’t necessarily support across the board drug legalization but the “gateway drug” argument used for pot is nothing less than another example of nanny state politics.

    So now what happens when someone moves on from legal pot to illegal cocaine?
    The same damn thing that happened before only NOW we’re not wasting billions of dollars pretending we’re protecting pot heads from themselves. (as if we CAN!)

    Now maybe we can shift focus to another, more expensive failed “war”, the “war on poverty”.

    The money wasted fighting pot PALES in comparison to the trillions we have poured into the very lucrative “Poverty Industry” with far more destructive results.

    At least the “war on drugs” hasn’t resulted in the creation of generational drug addicts.

    The “poor” haven’t been so lucky.

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  11. Reality Check says:

    I don’t care if people want to get stoned. But could we please drop the medical lingo? No one’s fooling anyone by using the words “dispensary, patients, medicinal” and so on. This newspaper has become little more than a press agent for a for-profit industry.

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