• Sonoma County Cannabis Program

Frequently Asked Questions

I submitted a complete application to the County, does my penalty relief expire on June 1, 2018 even if the County has not made a determination on whether to issue a permit?

No, the Temporary Code Enforcement Penalty Relief Program allows current cultivators on permit eligible properties to continue to operate until a final determination is issued on their cannabis land use permit application as long as they meet the criteria outlined in the application form.

Does the one acre cultivation limit apply to property owners leasing to multiple operators?

No, the one acre cultivation limit applies to operators only.

Can I apply for multiple types of cultivation on the same parcel?

As a general rule, the Code allows one cultivation permit per parcel for each type of use.  (Code, § 26-88-254, subd. (f)(1).) The total amount of cultivation proposed per parcel dictates whether an applicant will be required to obtain a zoning permit, minor use permit or conditional use permit.  For example, if Operator A applies for two zoning permits for two separate 2,500 square foot Mixed Light operations on Parcel A, such application would be denied; however, in this scenario Operator A could obtain one use permit to cultivate 5,000 square feet on Parcel A.

An operator may obtain multiple permits for different types of cultivation (e.g., Indoor, Outdoor, Mixed Light and/or Nursery) on a single parcel, provided the parcel is located within the appropriate zoning district and further provided the site meets the minimum parcel size for each type of cultivation both individually and collectively.  In such instance, the size of the cultivation area for each cultivation type must be limited to the maximum square footage limits set forth in the Cannabis Land Use Table.  For example, a 10 acre site zoned LIA could accommodate a maximum of 10,000 square feet of Mixed Light cultivation or a maximum of 43,560 square feet of Outdoor cultivation.  Assuming an operator wanted to combine the Mixed Light and Outdoor cultivation on the same 10 acre site, the total cultivation area on the site could not exceed the maximum cultivation area allowed on a 10 acre site in the LIA zone -- 43,560 square feet.  In other words, the operator may have 10,000 square feet of Mixed Light and 33,560 square feet of Outdoor, or any combination of Outdoor and Mixed Light, provided the limits allowed for each cultivation type are not exceeded and the total cultivation area for all types does not exceed the maximum 43,560 square feet allowed. 

As another example, a 10 acre parcel zoned LIA could individually accommodate 43,560 square feet of Outdoor cultivation or 5,000 square feet of indoor cultivation or 10,000 square feet of Mixed Light cultivation.  Assuming an operator wanted to combine these cultivation types on the same site, the total cultivation area for all cultivation types could not exceed the maximum area allowed on a 10 acre site in the LIA zone - 43,560 square feet. In such instance, the operator could obtain a single use permit for 3,000 square feet of Indoor cultivation, 10,000 square feet of Mixed Light cultivation, and 30,560 square feet of Outdoor cultivation.

Can I apply for multiple cultivation permits on different parcels?

A single operator may obtain multiple cultivation permits on different parcels within the County provided the total square footage of all permitted cultivation does not exceed one acre County-wide.  In other words, if a single operator holds multiple cultivation permits on multiple parcels, the total County-wide cultivation area for that operator cannot exceed one acre.  For example, Operator A may obtain use permits for 10,000 square feet of Outdoor cultivation on one parcel in an agricultural area, 22,000 square feet of Indoor cultivation in an industrial area in the South County, and 11,560 square feet of Mixed Light cultivation in an industrial area in the North County, for a total County-wide cultivation area of 43,560 square feet or one acre. In such instance, Operator A would not be able to obtain any additional cultivation permits within the County.

Can I apply for multiple permits for a multi-tenant operation on a single parcel?

Yes.  The County may issue multiple zoning permits for multi-tenant operations on a single parcel in agricultural and industrial zones, provided the minimum parcel size is met for the total combined cultivation area and further provided the total combined cultivation area does not exceed the maximum area allowed for that type of cultivation pursuant to the Cannabis Land Use Table. For example, Operator A may obtain a zoning permit to operate a 2,500 square foot Mixed Light facility within the LIA zone on Parcel X and Operator B may also obtain a zoning permit to operate a 2,500 square foot Mixed Light facility on the same Parcel X. 

Importantly, however, the combined cultivation area of the multi-tenant operation may not exceed the total cultivation area allowed based on the size of the parcel under the applicable land use. The Cannabis Land Use Table provides the maximum cultivation area per parcel (not per permit) dependent on the zoning district and parcel size. For example, a 10 acre agricultural parcel could accommodate a 10,000 square foot single tenant Mixed Light facility or four 2,500 square foot multi-tenant operations. 

What are the restrictions for existing structures on agricultural lands?

To prevent conversion of agricultural soils to permanent structures, the County restricts cannabis related structures in agricultural and resource zones (see land use table) to existing legally established structures with building permits issued prior to 2016 or to previously developed areas. Previously developed can also mean other impervious areas such as parking areas, structures or roads, as long as they were legally established through a grading permit or other ways. There should be a no net increase in impervious surfaces.

Does the County allow adult use (recreational) non-medical commercial cannabis uses?

Yes. The County currently issues permits for non-medical (adult or recreational) cannabis uses throughout the commercial cannabis supply chain, including dispensaries. A permit is not required for personal-use non-medical cannabis cultivation of up to six plants not exceeding 100 sq. ft. per residence.  

Can I get a permit for a cannabis delivery service?

No. Under the County’s ordinance, regardless of state law, cannabis delivery is only allowed as part of a dispensary use permit.

Will the County be limiting the number of permits?

Cannabis dispensaries are limited to nine County-wide, not including those permitted within city limits. As of December 2018, there are five permitted dispensaries in operation and four dispensary applications under review, thereby meeting the total cap of nine. In addition, there is a limit of nine centralized processing facilities on agricultural land with a use permit (discretionary permit); applications for centralized processing facilities on agricultural land are not yet being accepted. There is no cap on centralized processing facilities within industrial zones, for which applications are currently being accepted. No other cannabis supply chain uses are limited or capped at the local level, though the State may implement caps on certain permit types. Cultivation is capped at 1 acre per operator County-wide.

Are permits limited to local cultivators only?

No, permit applications are open to any operator. Local cultivators in operation prior to 2016 or operators who are residents, with a local hiring plan, will receive priority processing.

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.

Is there a minimum lot size or size limit for nurseries?

Yes, wholesale nurseries are permitted in the same way as cultivation. The minimum lot size and zoning will determine the size of nursery allowed and at what size.

Do nurseries/propagation areas count against the 1 acre maximum requirement?

Yes. Nurseries/propagation areas are considered cultivation and are included in the maximum cultivation area that can be permitted. However, for flowering plant operations (i.e., Outdoor, Mixed Light, and Indoor), a 25% additional area for propagation to support onsite cultivation may be requested with a use permit. This allowance does not apply to zoning permits. 

Can I have 1 acre of cultivation and have a permit for manufacturing or other cannabis business?

Yes, an operator may have 1 acre of cultivation and other cannabis businesses, although these operations may not be permit-able on the same property (refer to the Land Use Table).

Permit Processing

What are the different permit types and the process involved?

Zoning Permit - This is considered a ministerial permit and the permit will be issued once it can be verified that the operation meets all the development criteria and operating standards in the ordinance, as confirmed by a site visit. These permits can take 3-6 months to process depending upon the completeness of the application and staff workloads.

Minor Use Permit - This is a discretionary permit and is subject to public notification, environmental review and a determination of compatibility with the neighborhood. Once notice is issued, if no request for hearing is received, staff may approve the permit administratively and may add conditions to address any issues.  These permits typically take approximately 6 months or longer to process.

Conditional Use Permit - This is a discretionary permit and is subject to public notification, environmental review and a public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments. The Board of Zoning Adjustments must determine that the use is compatible with the neighborhood and may add conditions to address any issues.  These permits typically take approximately 12 months or longer to process.

How much do permits cost?

Land use permit costs vary by type of permit, the extent of environmental review required and the level of controversy. Zoning permits cost an average of $2,500; minor use permits range from $3,000 to $6,000; conditional use permits range from $15,000 to $17,000.  Note these are the initial permit application fees. Minor and conditional use permits may cost more because they are processed on an “at cost” basis, which means staff time is billed at an hourly rate based on the time required.

Can I get a building or grading permit before my zoning or use permit?

No. Building and grading permits are not issued until the land use has been approved. You may be able to apply for a plan check of the building and grading permits at the same time as the land use permit; however, changes in the land use approval or conditions may require revision of the building or grading plans at additional cost to the applicant.

Can I get a permit to install solar panels in advance of applying for a cannabis use, at a size that meets the projected demand for my cannabis use?

No. Accessory solar arrays are permitted for on-site uses. Once an application is submitted to permit commercial cannabis, a concurrent building permit application for solar can be submitted and processed, but not issued until the on-site cannabis use is permitted.

Can I get a cultivation permit if I have an easement with the Ag and Open Space District?

No. Conservation easements acquired by the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District do not allow for any uses that conflict with federal law.

Are all of the items on the application checklist required for my project?

All of the items on the checklist must be addressed in the application submittal in some way. Each item is required to be submitted unless the proposal statement clearly describes why that specific item is not applicable. For example, a biotic assessment is not needed for an indoor cultivation operation in a fully developed industrial area. Do not leave a box unchecked unless there is a specific response addressing it in the proposal statement.

What if my nonprofit or mutual benefit corporation wants to change its status to a for-profit corporation?

If a nonprofit or mutual benefit corporation wishes to change its status to a for-profit corporation after the land use permit is issued, such change would constitute a change in ownership and would require a new permit application and permit.  If the change occurs during the application process, the County may exercise its discretion to continue processing the application under the name of the new corporate entity or require a new application.

How is outdoor cultivation measured?

Cottage Grows: Cottage grows are not subject to square footage based on canopy; compliance will be determined based on plant count. The perimeter of the cultivation area must be identified (to demonstrate compliance with required setbacks only). All required setbacks from property lines and sensitive sites still apply.

All Other Cultivation: The cultivation area is the total aggregate area(s) of cannabis cultivation on a single premise measured at the drip line of the plant canopy during flowering unless there is an identifiable boundary used to delineate or demarcate canopy that includes, but is not limited to, the space between plants within the cultivation area, the exterior dimensions of the garden beds, garden plots, hoop houses, green houses, and each room or area where cannabis plants are grown, as determined by the review authority. If an identifiable boundary is present, then walkways and other work-spaces within a cultivation area can be subtracted from the canopy measurement used for evaluating compliance with permitted cultivation area and for taxation thereof, regardless of cultivation type (indoor, mixed light, or outdoor).   

What are the setbacks required for cultivation?

Setbacks are measured as the crow flies, meaning the horizontal distance between the uses.

Property Setbacks (outdoor):  100 feet from property lines, 300 feet from residences and businesses on adjacent properties. This is measured from the cultivation operation to the actual residential or business structure.

Property Setbacks (mixed light in agricultural and resource zones):   100 feet from property lines, 300 feet from residences and businesses on adjacent properties. This is measured from the “cultivation area” to the actual residential or business structure.

Property Setbacks (mixed light in industrial zones):  300 feet from surrounding residences.

Separation Criteria (outdoor and mixed light):  the property line of the applicant’s property must be setback 1,000 feet from the nearest property line of a sensitive use (e.g. K-12 public or private schools, parks, childcare center, or alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers). Unlike setbacks, the separation criteria are measured from the property line of the sensitive use to the property line of the parcel with the cultivation (i.e. the measurement is not taken from the cultivation area).

For purposes of interpreting the Cannabis Ordinance, “Parks” include State Parks (e.g., Sugarloaf Ridge State Park), Federal Recreation Areas (e.g. Lake Sonoma), all Regional Parks, Community Parks and Neighborhood Parks as defined in the Sonoma County 2020 General Plan and 2020 General Plan EIR, and Class I Bikeways as defined in the Sonoma County 2020 General Plan.

Note, the only setback that applies to indoor cannabis uses are those of the base zoning district.

Can I get a Setback Reduction? 

You may apply for a reduction in the park setback if a physical separation exists between the operation and the adjacent park, and the operation is not visible or accessible from the adjacent park. With exception to the park setback, no other reductions to the setbacks set forth in the ordinance are allowed.  You may separately apply for a variance under California Government Code section 65906 and County Code section 26-92-100. 

Can I cultivate cannabis using off-grid power?

Yes, electrical power for indoor cultivation and mixed light operations (and drying) including but not limited to illumination, heating, cooling, and ventilation, shall be provided by any combination of the following: (i) on-grid power with 100% renewable source; (ii) on-site zero net energy renewable source; or (iii) purchase of carbon offsets of any portion of power not from renewable sources. The use of generators for indoor and mixed light cultivation is prohibited, except for portable temporary use in emergencies only.

Is cannabis cultivation allowed on lands in an Agricultural Preserve under a Williamson Act contract? How does growing cannabis on the property affect our property taxes?

The California Land Conservations Act, also known as the Williamson Act, provides for the establishment of Agricultural Preserves and allows property owners to enter into long-term contracts to devote their land to agricultural or open space uses; in exchange, the land owner receives beneficial property tax treatment. The Sonoma County Uniform Rules for Agricultural Preserves set forth the rules and regulations governing the administration of the County’s Agricultural Preserve program under the Williamson Act. Cultivation of cannabis is not considered a qualifying agricultural use, but limited cannabis cultivation may be allowed as a compatible use on contracted lands. All compatible uses (including homes) can take up no more than 15% of the property up to a maximum of 5 acres, whichever is less. As part of permitting for cannabis cultivation, the landowner will also need to file an application for a revised Land Conservation Act contract or Land Conservation Plan to identify the new cannabis use and a compliance statement to demonstrate that the land will remain in compliance with the contract restrictions. The area subject to cannabis cultivation may increase the property taxes even though the land remains under contract. For more information on changes in the use of land under Land Conservation Act contract, please contact the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office. It is always recommended that you consult with a tax professional before making any tax related decisions.

Please note that cannabis cultivation would not be permitted on lands with an Agricultural Preservation and Open Space Easement acquired by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

Can I remove trees to accommodate my cultivation operation?

A use permit is required for any tree removal or timber conversion.

The Code requires that I submit a security plan – will that be made available to the public?

No. All security plans are kept confidential unless the County is required to disclose the information pursuant to a court order.

When am I required to provide a hydrogeologic report with my application?

The Code states that a hydrogeologic report is required for projects located within Groundwater Availability Zone 4 or an area for which a Groundwater Management Plan has been adopted or designated as a high or medium priority basin.  However, if you are applying for a use permit, the General Plan (Policy WR-2e) requires a hydrogeologic report for all discretionary applications located within Groundwater Availability Zones 3 and 4.

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.

I’ve received a Courtesy Notice from Permit Sonoma requesting a site inspection.  What should I do?

Don’t panic.  The purpose of the inspection is to respond to the complaint and ensure Sonoma County permitting requirements are met.  We will also provide information on the County’s cannabis regulations and various permitting options.  A written violation notice may be issued if areas of non-compliance are found.

Can I grow cannabis on a property? 

First, you’ll need to know the zoning of the parcel which can be found here:  https://prmd.sonomacounty.ca.gov/CitizenAccess/APO/APOLookup.aspx

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

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

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/

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

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

I have submitted a cultivation application and/or a Penalty Relief Application. Why did I get a notice from PRMD Code Enforcement saying they need to conduct an inspection in response to a complaint?

Code Enforcement responds to complaints from neighbors and must respond to each complaint by conducting a site visit.  These inspections occur regardless of whether the operator has submitted an application for the Penalty Relief Program, and are not related to the application process.  Once a permit has been issued by the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) or by the Department of Agriculture, complaints from the neighbors will be investigated by PRMD or the Department of Agriculture, respectively, and will not be routed to Code Enforcement.

I’m interested in other 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/