Frustrated by the Board of Supervisors’ lack of progress in allowing commercial cannabis cultivation in Napa County, the Napa Valley Cannabis Association is planning a ballot initiative to force the issue.

The group is aiming for an initiative on the March 2020 ballot unless supervisors can be persuaded to adopt regulations of their own.

“The Board of Supervisors should do their job and allow the legal activities that the voters have voted for,” said Eric Sklar of the NVCA.

According to an association-sponsored poll, a majority of Napa voters would support a move to speed up the county’s regulation of commercial cannabis growing.

Carried out in English by Change Research, the poll’s sample ultimately included 348 registered Napa voters.

Asked if they would support a ballot measure to safely regulate commercial cannabis activity in Napa County, 64 percent of those polled said they would, 23 percent said they wouldn’t, and 13 percent were unsure.

The results reflect Napans’ steady support for access to regulated cannabis. California voters passed Proposition 64 by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent in 2016. Voters in Napa were even more supportive, with a margin of 61 percent in favor and 39 percent against.

“There’s overwhelming support and it’s only growing every day,” Sklar said.

However, since the passage of Proposition 64, Napa County has yet to allow commercial activity in its unincorporated areas, while its cities have also continued to stall on allowing the retail of recreational cannabis in their borders.

The poll and forthcoming ballot measure deal only with commercial cultivation on land in the unincorporated county, which is governed by the Board of Supervisors, leaving the issue of dispensaries to the cities and their city councils. The initiative would prohibit retail in the unincorporated county.

Key to the initiative is a deadline for localities to adopt regulations. Through Proposition 64, if Napa’s Board of Supervisors were to act on the issue before June 30 of this year, the county would receive an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, meaning it could forgo expensive environmental quality analysis.

However, the exemption expires on June 30, leaving the county with the burden of carrying out a more expensive and thorough environmental study if it acts after the deadline.

If the supervisors do act before the deadline, the group can pull its initiative plans, Sklar said. If not, the organization will mount a petition gathering effort to have the measure before county voters in 2020.

Napa voters who were polled were asked, “Do you believe the Board of Supervisors should act promptly to allow commercial cannabis activities … in Napa County?” to which 55 percent answered ‘yes’.

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Among the poll’s additional findings, 81 percent of those surveyed would support a tax on cannabis products. If commercial activities were allowed in the county, among the main concerns of those polled would be youth use of cannabis, motor vehicle accidents and odor from such activities. Of least concern was the impact of commercial cannabis on Napa’s reputation and the area’s wine industry.

As far as the perceived benefits from the cannabis industry’s possible place in Napa, respondents noted tax revenue, job opportunities and economic and agricultural diversification as the biggest pluses that could come of it.

Respondents felt commercial cannabis should be regulated to be set a certain distance from schools and residences, and be limited in terms of the amount grown on a property and the total number of growers allowed in the county.

The initiative would set distances from schools and homes and would limit cannabis cultivation to one acre per legal parcel. Generally, Sklar said, one acre will yield about one ton of cannabis.

“That also addresses the misconception when people say ‘Oh, it’s going to take over grapes,’” NVCA Board President Stephanie Honig said. “Not at all. It’s probably going to be grown mostly in the watershed area and Pope Valley and Berryessa and maybe up to 20 acres for the county. But it’s very limited.”

“The idea behind growing cannabis in Napa County is very similar to Napa Valley wine grapes,” Honig added. “You have a small amount at the top of the pyramid, premium, high quality, and you’re not adding to the glut. It’s not quantity, it’s quality.”

The Napa Valley Cannabis Association believes voters would pass its initiative, but would rather not “spend all the time and money in doing it,” Honig said. “We really want the supervisors to act and get it done.”

Honig and Sklar also encouraged supervisors to use their group’s ballot initiative as a starting point, instead of starting from scratch. “They can take ours and they can cross out here and add here to fix it the way they want it,” Sklar said.

Board of Supervisors Chair Ryan Gregory said the board has yet to take a position on commercial cultivation. Supervisors late last year extended a moratorium on commercial cannabis activity in the county’s unincorporated areas through 2019.

For now, Gregory said a clear timetable for an ordinance remains unclear. “To have an ordinance done by June 30 I don’t think is possible, given what we’re working on right now,” he said.

He added that supervisors may consider using the initiative’s ideas as a starting point. “We’ll look at what they come up with and if they’ve come up with some language and good ideas, we’d be happy to entertain all of it and absorb it. Anything like that that helps our staff save some time, we would take advantage of.”

Asked why supervisors had not developed an ordinance sooner, Gregory offered, “Even after Prop. 64 passed, it was a moving target. We didn’t really get the regulations until last year some time. You’ve got jurisdictions out there just slowly, slowly absorbing this, trying to figure out how it fits into their community around all the other regular work they have.”

“We’ve very recently been equipped with the regulations needed to consider ordinances and at this point it’s a workload management challenge,” he said.

As for his position on commercial cultivation, Gregory said, “Do we need to grow it here in Napa to make sure dispensary shelves are stocked? No. California grows plenty of it. Would there be a way to grow it environmentally, sensitively and not affect our other industry and our primary crop? I think there is a way to go about it carefully and slowly. This Board has to get our arms around that sometime this year.”

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Wine Reporter / Copy Editor

Henry Lutz covers the local wine industry. He has been a reporter and copy editor for the Register since 2016.