By John Ramos

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – Sonoma County has many illegal marijuana grow operations, and there is growing opposition to allowing legal pot to be grown near homes in the county.

A Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday was packed and the audience well defined, with green hats for the cannabis growers and red hats for Sonoma County neighbors who oppose them.

The supervisors are drawing up their plans for the recreational, or adult, sale of marijuana and the debate centers around where to grow it.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin said, “If we are permitting dispensaries, then we have to assume the obligation of figuring out where’s the best place to cultivate.”

It turns out that the cannabis plant thrives in exactly the same climate as wine grapes. And that’s what makes Sonoma County and the surrounding areas such an attractive place to grow it.

Humboldt County cannabis grower Craig Johnson said, “You go other places to grow cannabis and you have to bring in lots of infrastructure. You have to bring in greenhouses, heat, all those other things, where this is a really natural space for cannabis to grow in, outside and in the full sun.”

But that’s also the reason rural neighbors living next to proposed grow locations are upset.

Chuck Pinnow is a member of Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods and he’s not on board with the idea of outdoor growing.

“This whole county is going to smell like a rotting corpse because of the smell of the cannabis flower,” Pinnow said. “And we, as a neighborhood, as a populace, shouldn’t have to put up with that because somebody else wants to make a quick buck.”

The neighbors want Sonoma County to limit marijuana cultivation to indoor operations only.

They feel that would stem the flood of growers who might come there for the good weather.

Dan Ramirez is also a member of Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods.

Ramirez said, “When we voted to legalize it, we didn’t realize that we were going to be the grow capital of California.”

But the growers say pot is just another agricultural crop and that it actually brings in more money than wine sales.

They object to moves by the county to restrict pot growing to industrially zoned areas, eliminating much of the rural agricultural lands.

Brandon Levine, founder of Mercy Wellness Cannabis Dispensary said, “The economic impact that is going to come about by removing these different zonings is going to be huge.”

Supervisors will have to balance the needs of a burgeoning, and legal, new industry with the concerns of neighbors who don’t want it in their backyards.

Tuesday’s meeting was just a study session to gather information and concerns. City staff now have five months to draw up a recommended plan for the supervisors to consider.

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