The Sonoma City Council heard four half-hour presentations by the applicants for the city’s Commercial Cannabis Business license on Wednesday, May 27, during a teleconference council meeting.

While Council members did not discuss the merits of the proposals — council comments will be heard June 8 — at the end of the meeting, members did inquire about the possibility of amending the city cannabis ordinance to allow more than one commercial walk-in dispensary. Currently the ordinance only allows licenses for one storefront dispensary and one delivery-only dispensary.

The council will revisit the dispensary issue June 8, when members will recommend which of the applicants can move ahead to Phase 3 of the city’s dispensary selection process.

The four remaining applicants are Coastal Sonoma, Justice Grown, Lighthouse and SPARC. (Mercy Wellness of Cotati withdrew its application prior to the May 27 meeting.) Each applicant was given 10 minutes for their presentation, and an open period of time to respond to questions from the city council.

Councilmembers asked the same questions of each applicant, such as target market, dealing with tourists, legal issues and security.

Each of the applicants tried to stress their local roots in their presentations — from local faces intended to manage operations to “advisory councils,” featuring familiar names from local restaurants, wineries and nonprofits.

Most spoke of potential financial rewards for the city in terms of taxes and business revenue to the city (over $1 million a year, promised SPARC), or additional donations to local nonprofit programs ($1 million in five years, said Coastal Sonoma), or Justice Grown’s promised pro bono legal defense for the city against the “threat posed by the referendum,” in reference to the Cannabis Access measure on the November ballot, which if passed would allow multiple dispensaries in the city.

This last suggestion elicited a comment from resident Celeste Winters who said she found it “very alarming” that a business would offer to “lock down the market for themselves” in this way.

Additional public comments were few – there was only one other commenter, who thought Mercy Wellness would be the best choice, despite their having pulled out.

After the four applicants finished their presentations, the council discussion turned to the dearth of candidates for a delivery-only dispensary, or “non-store front retail” business. Several candidates referred to delivery in their business discussion, but often as a feature they could provide in the current coronavirus business restrictions.

But Planning Director David Storer pointed out that in the applications, only two remaining applicants, Coastal Sonoma and SPARC, indicated they would be willing to be considered for either a storefront dispensary or delivery-only.

City Attorney Jeff Walter said the city would have to restart the process if council members wanted to field additional non-storefront applications; if not, the city was limited to those two applicants.

Mayor Logan Harvey asked if the council could approve two walk-in dispensaries, sparking Councilmembers Rachel Hundley and Amy Harrington to ask what it would take to change the ordinance to allow two storefront dispensaries.

“An ordinance would have to come back to the council for introduction and adoption, then two meetings, and a 30-day wait period,” said Walter. “You’re looking at 60 days.”

City Manager Cathy Capriola said that HDL, the city’s cannabis consultant, might have encountered similar situations and have another path forward, and suggested the topic be reviewed at the next regularly-scheduled meeting.

At that June 8 meeting, the four applicants will be available to answer any additional questions, and the council will select a minimum of two to move ahead in securing a location and making their final submission.

Since the May 28 meeting was only a special session to review the applications — and not make a decision — council discussion was off the table.

At least one council member seemed to have already made up her mind.

“I’m ready,” said Councilmember Madolyn Agrimonti.

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