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Napa supervisors prepare to ban cultivation, manufacturing, and sale of commercial cannabis in unincorporated Napa County

by Keraa Todorov
September 18, 2019

Napa County Supervisors on Tuesday took the first step to ban the cultivation of commercial cannabis in unincorporated areas, a prohibition that may or may not be permanent. The supervisors also said the county should organize public workshops on cannabis beginning in January.

Supervisors said they wanted to guarantee access to cannabis while they also cast doubt on the possibility that the crop could be cultivated alongside wine grapes. The discussion took place as the debate on commercial cannabis is expected to continue in Napa County.

“There is no place in the state of California where we can point to a county ordinance that works,” Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said Tuesday. “So being asked to invent the one that will work is… it’s quite a challenge.”

The supervisors proposed two separate motions. The supervisors voted 5-0 to direct staff to prepare an ordinance to ban the cultivation, manufacturing, and retail sale of commercial cannabis in unincorporated Napa County. County staff is expected to draft an ordinance by Oct. 15.

The supervisors also voted on separate motion to have public outreach meetings on cannabis beginning in January. That vote 4-1 and left some of the members in the audience confused.

Supervisor Belia Ramos, who cast the dissenting vote, said she wanted cannabis “access” and “cultivation” addressed separately. “I'm in favor the moratorium and the community engagement plan. But I do want to have them separated,” Ramos said after the vote.

The ordinance, if approved, would replace moratorium on cannabis cultivation in unincorporated Napa County which was first adopted in 2017. The moratorium could not be extended under state law; it is set to expire in December.

Eric Sklar, a vintner and chief executive officer of Fumé, a cannabis cultivation and delivery company, has led efforts to have commercial cannabis cultivation allowed in unincorporated Napa County with a group called Napa Valley Cannabis Association.

In August, the pro-cannabis group decided to withdraw a ballot initiative to allow the cultivation of commercial cannabis in Napa County citing the Board of Supervisors’ “good faith” decision to develop a cannabis ordinance.

Measure J would have allowed the cultivation of up to 1 acre of commercial cannabis on lots of 10 or more acres in unincorporated areas zoned agricultural preserve and agricultural watershed.

On Tuesday, Sklar and other proponents of commercial cannabis cultivation said they supported a ban on cultivation to have the time to allow the formulation of rules regulating commercial cannabis.

However, opponents to commercial cannabis cultivation in Napa County on Tuesday argued the two crops – cannabis and wine grapes – cannot coexist.

Representatives for Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County, on Tuesday urged the supervisors to approve an ordinance to ban the commercial use of marijuana. The speakers cited the risks to the Napa Valley wine industry, the brand and tourism.

The impacts of commercial cannabis are “simply beyond mitigation,” said Michele Novi, associate director of Industry Relations at Napa Valley Vintners. “Cannabis poses both a risk to the brand itself and a potential risk to the agricultural product. And those risks are simply too high,” Novi said.

Tom Davies, president of V. Sattui said cannabis was a threat to the wine industry. He and other vintners, including Dennis Groth, chairman of Groth Vineyards and Winery and Chuck Wagner, of Caymus, urged the supervisors to pass an ordinance to ban the commercial.

Drivers along Highway 29 would see “hoop houses surrounded by barbed wire fences, armed guards and guard dogs” if cannabis cultivation is allowed in the county. The smell is unmistakable, Davies added. “It smells like skunk. It is not pleasant,” Davies said.

Davies cited the example of Kathy Joseph proprietor of Fiddlestix vineyard in Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County who, he said, lost her entire Chardonnay crop after she was forced to use a less effective fungicide. She had to make the switch because of the risk of fungicide drift into a neighboring cannabis grow, according to news reports.

“The Napa Valley is being targeted by pro cannabis groups because of our name and reputation,” Davies said.

However Sklar said he wanted to respond to Davies’ “hyperbolic scare tactics.”

“We are not trying to harm Napa Valley,” he said, adding Davies and winery owner Dario Sattui of have refused to meet with him. They went to Santa Barbara, which he said, was the “worst” example of how to grow commercial cannabis in the state, invited by an “anti-cannabis” wine grower.

His group has sent a letter to the Napa Valley Vintners stating there would be no cannabis would grow in the Agricultural Preserve and be seen from the Napa Valley floor, he said. His commercial operation in Lake County is small. There is no odor, he added. “There's no security guards or guard dogs,” Sklar added.

“They're using scare tactics because they're against cannabis.”

Cannabis can be compatible with winegrowing, noting the group has propose 1,000-foot setbacks from any vineyards or wineries. “We need to do this now,” he said of the ordinance.

Before the vote, supervisors said they wanted to work with cities and the Town of Yountville to make sure access to cannabis is available to residents of Napa County either within the urban areas or near the Napa County Airport near American Canyon.

Cannabis rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. American Canyon, for instance, does have a cannabis ordinance in place.

“Under State Law, non-storefront retail delivery of cannabis products is already allowed throughout Napa County – including American Canyon,” said Jason Holley, American Canyon’s city manager.

More than 200 acres of land are zoned “for indoor commercial cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, microbusiness, testing in American Canyon,” according to Holley. The ordinance prohibits storefront retail stores in American Canyon, Napa County’s second biggest city.

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