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Napa County wants to learn more about what commercial cannabis cultivation and activities might mean for rural areas, from possible effects on wine country tourism to odors associated with cannabis grows.

The Napa Valley Cannabis Association forced the discussion. It collected enough signatures to qualify a commercial cannabis measure for the March ballot.

That left the county Board of Supervisors on July 23 with the choices of placing the initiative on the ballot, adopting the initiative—or doing a study before choosing. Supervisors went the latter route and called for the 9111 report, named after a section in the California election code.

“As a policy maker, you want the facts to make the best decision you can,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

A 9111 report can analyze how a ballot measure would affect land use, agriculture, open space, finances, housing, a community’s ability to attract and retain businesses and other topics. It must be presented to supervisors within 30 days.

Supervisors added a number of issues of their own, such as cannabis cultivation odors that some find objectionable, how much cannabis could be grown and where, effects on the black market and expenses to county government.

“When you start to peel this onion, there’s a lot to it,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.

Eric Sklar of the Napa Valley Cannabis Association invited the Board of Supervisors to begin crafting a commercial cannabis law of its own. Then the Board of Supervisors could later make changes to the law, if need be, as opposed to taking changes back to voters.

But supervisors would have to come up with something acceptable to the Napa Valley Cannabis Association by Dec. 5. Sklar said that’s the last day the association could withdraw the ballot measure.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ryan Gregory expressed doubt the three months remaining after the 9111 report comes out in late August would be enough time.

“We’re not going to develop the best ordinance with a gun to our head,” Gregory said, adding if cannabis advocates want supervisors to create an ordinance, they might consider removing the gun.

The Board of Supervisors in August 2018 talked about crafting a commercial cannabis cultivation law, but didn’t want to move forward immediately. Gregory said the issue got put behind other county priorities.

Upset with the delay, the Napa Valley Cannabis Association decided to take the matter to voters.

Under the citizens’ initiative, commercial cannabis cultivation could take place only on properties 10 acres or larger, with grows of up to one acre per property. Grows couldn’t take place on lots with operating wineries, within 1,000 feet of parks and schools and within 500 feet of homes.

Outdoor cultivation would be taxed annually at $1 per square foot and “mixed light” cultivation that includes artificial lights at $2 per square foot. Certain commercial cannabis enterprises would be allowed in the airport industrial zone with permits, such as manufacturing, distribution and non-storefront retail.

The group Winegrowers of Napa County encouraged supervisors to do the 9111 report and use the information to craft an ordinance of its own.

“We do not want to see an initiative,” Winegrowers Executive Director Michelle Benvenuto said. “We do think that’s a clumsy way to proceed. This is new territory and we want to be able to tweak this ordinance going forward. An initiative process would not allow that.”

Tom Davies of V. Sattui winery said close attention must be paid to protecting the Napa Valley wine brand. The region produces the best wine in the state and probably in the world, he said.

“It just is beyond me we are considering taking land away from grapes and planting cannabis here in Napa Valley, in our ag and watershed lands,” Davies said.

He described rural, commercial cannabis grows as a threat to vines.

Stephanie Honig of Honig Vineyard and Winery in Rutherford had a different view. Her family’s livelihood is the wine business and she would not be an initiative proponent if she thought cannabis cultivation would hurt that in any way, she said.

“I actually strongly feel this is additive,” Honig said.

Cannabis is a high-value crop that could be grown small-scale on marginal land, she said.

“People are using more cannabis and drinking less wine,” she said. “So if we don’t address that, we’re really going to stay back in the times. We really need to move with the times and market ourselves as progressive.”

Napa Valley Farm Bureau opposes the cannabis initiative. Among other things, the group said in a letter that cannabis grows could spread pests and pathogens to vineyards. It’s unknown how cannabis odors might affect nearby wine grapes. Odors from cannabis grows near wineries might affect business.

Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas asked supervisors to move forward with a 9111 report to answer unanswered questions.

Sklar said the Napa Valley Cannabis Association wants to protect the Napa Valley brand and do things right. Sensible, well-written cannabis regulation is the path to reducing the illegal cannabis market, he said.

Napa County voters clearly support a regulated cannabis industry, Sklar said. Sixty-one percent of county voters favored Proposition 64, the 2016 voter initiative to legalize cannabis in California.

An association-sponsored poll of 348 registered county voters found 64 percent support for safely regulated commercial cannabis activity.

The county intends to bring the 9111 report to the Board of Supervisors for discussion on Aug. 20.

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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.