• Sonoma County Cannabis Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I register to cultivate industrial hemp?

Not at this time. Currently there is a state approved registration fee established for industrial hemp producers to register with their local County Agricultural Commissioner’s (CAC) office. However, the State has not yet promulgated regulations for the administration, inspection, and enforcement work associated with this program. Registration for industrial hemp cultivation in Sonoma County will not be available until final regulations are adopted and the county decides on how industrial hemp will be regulated at the local level.

Can I open a cannabis cafe?

No. Smoking, vaping or ingesting cannabis or cannabis products is prohibited in any public place within the unincorporated county. Laws vary by jurisdiction and may be different in the incorporated cities versus the unincorporated county.

Am I required to have a permit for personal cultivation?

No. Any adult over the age of 21 years old and/or any patient or caregiver with a recommendation for medical cannabis is allowed to cultivate cannabis. However, there are restrictions on the amount of cannabis you can cultivate, as well as restrictions on where you can cultivate. The cannabis cannot be sold or distributed. More information on personal cultivation can be found  here.

Can I grow commercial cannabis on my property?

First, you’ll need to know the zoning of the parcel which can be found here:

Second, review your property’s potential on the Cannabis Land Use Table to see what’s allowed.

You can learn more about the permitting process and obtain a cultivation permit here.

You may also contact the Cannabis Hotline at 707-565-2420 or email at cannabis@sonoma-county.org to ask permitting questions.

Commercial cannabis cultivation is allowed on my property. What do I do now?

Cannabis cultivation permit applications can be found here:
http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Cannabis/Permits/Cultivation/

Commercial cannabis cultivation is not allowed on my property. Can I still keep my plants?

Cultivating commercial cannabis in excluded zoning districts is not allowed and all cannabis operations must be removed.

I’m interested in other commercial cannabis related activities other than cultivation. Who should I contact?

Licensing and Regulation Assistance – Economic Development Board http://sonomaedb.org/Current-Projects/Cannabis/

You may also contact the Cannabis Hotline at 707-565-2420 or email at cannabis@sonoma-county.org to ask permitting questions.

Edible Medical Cannabis Manufacturing and Dispensaries- Environmental Health and Safety http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Environmental-Health/Cannabis/

Cottage and Outdoor Cultivation – Agriculture, Weights and Measures http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/_templates_portal/Service.aspx?id=2147539280

Hazardous Materials and CUPA – Fire Prevention http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/FES/Fire-Prevention/Cannabis/

Where can I learn more about state licensing requirements?

Additonal information on state licensing requirements, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about state licensing, can be found here.

Should I be able to smell cannabis if there is a permitted business operating near me?

Any odor associated with a commercial cannabis activity shall not be such that it is determined to be a public nuisance or to adversely affect the health or safety of nearby residents or businesses. In other words, a cannabis operation is not required to be entirely odor free to be operating lawfully, but rather, the odor must be contained in such a manner that it does not result in a public nuisance or a health and safety concern; public nuisance considerations include strength, frequency, and duration of the odor from nearby residences and businesses.

The exact odor mitigation requirements for a project differ depending upon the activity type, the property’s land use designation and surrounding uses, and the site-specific considerations of the operation and parcel. The measures outlined below are in place to offset odor impacts from various cannabis operations, with additional project-specific conditions required if determined necessary by the review authority.

Once a project has been approved, if the odor emitting from the permitted operation results in multiple verified complaints, and these complaints are substantiated by County staff, Permit Sonoma staff may bring this matter to the Board of Zoning Adjustments for review of additional measures to reduce odor impacts to nearby residents and businesses. Odor complaints can be reported here.

Indoor and Mixed Light Cultivation

All indoor and mixed light cultivation operations and any drying, aging, trimming and packing facilities are required to be equipped with odor control filtration and ventilation systems such that the operation does not create a public nuisance or adversely affect the health and safety of nearby residents or businesses.

Outdoor Cultivation

A minimum parcel size of 10-acres is required for all outdoor cultivation. Minimum setback distances are also required (300 feet from residences and businesses, and 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other sensitive uses). These odor management strategies facilitate odor dissipation by distance. Generally, odors dissipate with distance from the source and opposite the primary direction of the odor flow.

As noted above, an outdoor cannabis operation is not required to be odor free at all times to be operating lawfully, but rather, the odor must be contained in such a manner that it does not result in a public nuisance; public nuisance considerations include the strength, frequency and duration of the odor from nearby residences and businesses. Some degree and duration of odor is to be expected from this agricultural product, particularly during the 3-6 weeks of budding and harvesting when terpenes are present and cannabis odor is most potent; this impact was taken into consideration when the cannabis zoning, minimum parcel sizes, and setbacks were established.

Furthermore, while not required of all outdoor cultivation projects, if it’s determined by the project review authority that further odor mitigation is warranted, additional conditions may be required as part of the project approval process. For example, surrounding the project cultivation area with a natural buffer or windbreak may be required. This strategy is frequently used to reduce odor impacts from agricultural, poultry and swine operations. The buffer/windbreak works most effectively when parcels are large (at least 10 acres) and land uses are far apart, maximizing odor dissipation with distance between uses. Odor plumes generally travel along the ground in the direction of the prevailing winds. However, tree and shrub buffers have been found to deflect the odor plume above the vegetation layer where it is diffused into the atmosphere. Additional benefits of natural buffer/windbreaks include visual screening, noise reduction, and providing food, shelter and overwintering habitat for birds and beneficial invertebrates, such as insect predators and native pollinators.

Dispensary

An exhaust and ventilation system shall be utilized by all dispensaries to prevent off-site odors.

Processing, Manufacturing, and Distribution

If it is determined during the project review and approval process that odors emanating from the project may result in a public nuisance or adversely affect the health or safety of nearby residents or businesses, project-specific conditions of approval may be required to help mitigate odor impacts to a less than significant level. For example, although there is no explicit language in the Cannabis Ordinance which requires installation of an exhaust and ventilation system to prevent off-site odors associated with cannabis processing, manufacturing and/or distribution specifically, this condition may be required as a stipulation of project approval if determined necessary by the review authority. 

How do I report a cannabis complaint?

Can I report a cannabis complaint anonymously?

While we do not accept anonymous complaints, your information will be kept confidential. If you contact us through “SoCo Report-it” you’ll need to register at the time your complaint is submitted. This information will not be disclosed unless court ordered by a judge.

What will happen next once I’ve turned in a complaint?

Permit Sonoma staff will make attempts to contact the property owner and/or occupants of the property to schedule a site inspection to review the complaint.

I’ve turned in a complaint but the cannabis activities continue. Why are the plants still there?

Prior to our cannabis ordinance, cultivation activities were investigated by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office as a potentially criminal endeavor. With recent changes to state law and adoption of the ordinance, investigation and regulation is now a non-criminal, land use issue. Permit Sonoma will investigate all complaints and determine if the cannabis operation has submitted an application to the County and is in compliance with local and state regulations. If the business is determined to be an illegal use, the property owners and operators may be subject to significant civil penalties and abatement proceedings in which a lien may be placed on the property. Operators accused of creating environmental damage may also face enforcement actions by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board and prosecution by the Sonoma County District Attorney.