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Napa County voters could decide if wine country will also be cannabis country.

Proponents of allowing commercial cannabis cultivation in the unincorporated county are taking their case to the people. They collected enough valid signatures to qualify a ballot measure on the issue for March 3, 2020 election.

The petition needed 5,635 signatures from registered county voters to qualify. Proponents turned in 8,246 signatures and based on a sample size an estimated 6,597 are valid, according to the county Election Division.

Next, the issue will go to the Napa County Board of Supervisors on July 23. Supervisors in such instances typically have three choices: place the measure on the ballot, adopt the measure or order a 9111 report to analyze the measure before acting at a later date.

“We are thrilled supervisors are going to be discussing it at their July 23 meeting and hope they will act to pass an ordinance,” said Eric Sklar of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association.

But he wasn’t certain supervisors have the choice of adopting the measure because it contains a tax on commercial cannabis activities, which could require voter approval. County Counsel’s office couldn’t be reached for a comment on Wednesday.

County supervisors said last year they planned to tackle the commercial cannabis cultivation issue, but have yet to do so. The Napa Valley Cannabis Association grew tired of waiting and decided to take the matter to the voters.

Board of Supervisors chairman Ryan Gregory said Tuesday other issues rose to the top of the Board of Supervisors’ priority list, such as revising watershed and tree protection laws. The Board doesn’t prefer that commercial cannabis cultivation policies be decided by ballot measure, but has to focus on its priorities, he said.

Sklar said supervisors still have time.

“We have the right to withdraw our ballot measure up to around Dec. 5. So yes, we would love the supervisors to act before then,” he said.

Whatever happens, a 9111 report would be a likely first step, based on how the Board of Supervisors has handled past citizen-initiated ballot measures. The reports – named after section 9111 in the California Elections Code—look at such things as possible impacts on finances, businesses, land use and agriculture.

The Napa County Farm Bureau has talked to proponents of commercial cannabis cultivation and opposes the ballot measure.

“We don’t believe the initiative process is the right way to address this issue,” Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas said on Wednesday.

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Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners said the group has talked with the Farm Bureau and Napa Valley Cannabis Association about making sure the language of an initiative would protect the Napa name. Napa Valley Vintners is satisfied in that regard, he said.

“That said, we’re awaiting the results of a 9111 report that the Board of Supervisors is likely to request and will reserve judgement until those results come out later this summer,” Stults said.

About 20 California counties allow commercial cannabis cultivation of some type, county officials told the Board of Supervisors in August 2018. The Napa County Cannabis Association aims at Napa County being more than simply one more growing area.

Sklar said Napa County growers would seek to grow the highest quality, highest price, most renowned cannabis in the world, achieving status similar to Napa County Cabernet.

“Cannabis growers will seek to do the same thing that Napa grape growers have done,” Sklar said. “Many of them are the same people.”

County officials last year said commercial cannabis cultivation raises several issues. Among them are cost recovery for county staff time to oversee the program, possible noxious odors, possible groundwater impacts and possible air quality impacts from generator use.

The ballot measure includes rules for commercial cannabis cultivation in the county’s agricultural preserve and agricultural/watershed zoning districts, which is most of the county outside of cities.

Cultivation could take place only on properties 10 acres and larger. Without a permit, grows of one acre could take place on these properties, including in an existing greenhouse under 2,500 square feet, as well as related cannabis processing in an existing structure under 2,500 square feet.

Administrative permits would be needed for a cannabis nursery in a new greenhouse under 2,500 square feet and for cannabis processing in a new structure under 2,500 square feet. Use permits that require Planning Commission hearings would be required for a cannabis processing structure 2,500 square feet or larger.

Commercial grows couldn’t take place on lots with operating wineries, within 1,000 feet of parks and schools and within 500 feet of homes. Growers couldn’t rely on timber harvest permits or remove certain trees for commercial cannabis cultivation. Growers would have to comply with county conservation laws.

In addition, the measure would enact an annual tax of $1 per square foot for outdoor cultivation, $2 per square foot for “mixed light” cultivation that includes artificial lights and 3.5 percent of the gross receipts of other commercial cannabis businesses.

The measure would allow certain commercial cannabis enterprises in the airport zoning district with permits. They are cannabis microbusinesses and testing laboratories with administrative permits and distribution, manufacturing and non-storefront retail with use permits.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.