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Sonoma County OKs first cannabis farm

Fiddler's Greens co-owner Shannon Hattan, joined by her husband Cameron, left, and Andrew Smith, the Deputy Agricultural Commissioner, signs an approval letter for a zoning permit for cannabis cultivation at the Agricultural Commission office in Santa Rosa, on Monday, December 4, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

JULIE JOHNSON,

Sonoma County has officially opened the door to the newly regulated cannabis industry, starting with a Sebastopol-area farm run by a married couple who has been producing marijuana and low-dose tinctures for nearly a decade.

The Fiddler’s Greens farm, founded by Shannon and Cameron Hattan, is a 10,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation operation on a property south of Sebastopol, producing flowers for a line of low-dose and nonpsychoactive tinctures.

On Monday, Sonoma County’s agriculture department officials gave Fiddler’s Greens an official cultivation permit letter, the first granted for a cannabis business other than a medical marijuana dispensary.

“We’re legitimate. We’re business owners. We’re part of society,” Shannon Hattan said.

The approval of the first cannabis farm is a benchmark moment for Sonoma County, which began accepting applications from cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and other businesses in July. Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar, whose department oversees farms of a certain size, said they aim to treat cannabis like any other crop — albeit one with a high level of regulatory scrutiny.

“We hope this is encouraging to other people who have been on the fence about applying for a county permit,” Linegar said. “It’s a complicated process, but the barriers are not insurmountable.”

Sonoma County’s agriculture and permit departments have received 127 applications from marijuana businesses: 107 cannabis cultivators, 10 manufacturers, three nurseries, three dispensaries, three distributors and one testing laboratory.

Tim Ricard, the county’s cannabis program manager, said staff expect to begin handing out more approved permits this week or next.

“The toughest one is the first one,” Ricard said.

There are 87 “boxes to check” to meet agriculture department requirements for a 10,000-square-foot garden, from ensuring the property is part of a qualified water district and slopes aren’t too steep to providing the correct ecological reports, Linegar said.

The process took more than five months and cost upward of $30,000 for the Hattans, who were fourth in line July 5, when the county began accepting cannabis business permit applications.

Fiddler’s Greens products are currently sold in about 45 dispensaries across California, from San Diego to Arcata, and include a line of tinctures and ointments. This weekend, it’s launching a line of pre-rolled joints at the Emerald Cup, held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

The name Fiddler’s Greens comes from “an old sailor’s myth, a place where the cups are never empty, music never stops and the dancing never ends,” said Cameron Hattan, a Marine Corps veteran, commercial boat captain and sailing instructor. Cameron Hattan said cannabis helped him tamp down his “intense and aggressive” personality after leaving the military and better channel his energy.

He was a judge for the High Times cannabis contest in Amsterdam in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The couple met in the Virgin Islands more than 15 years ago, where Cameron was working as a bartender and making cannabis-infused ice cream. Shannon Hatton was leaving the corporate workplace, where she held jobs as a management and project consultant, and planned to open a restaurant in Texas.

They fell in love, moved to Sonoma County about a decade ago after a stint in Texas, and have been cultivating marijuana for medical marijuana dispensaries while holding down other jobs. They told few friends and family members about their involvement in the cannabis industry.

They established Fiddler’s Greens in 2015, after California lawmakers passed a landmark set of laws regulating the medical marijuana industry, which has been legal for two decades but not closely governed.

The Sonoma County permit gives them the first sense of legal protection for the work they’ve been doing as part of a collective for medical marijuana dispensaries, Shannon Hattan said.

But the permit, and an accompanying document with an official Sonoma County Cannabis Program seal to display at their property, doesn’t erase all anxiety. Cannabis is still banned under federal drug laws.

But for now, they will focus on the next phase: seeking a state cultivation license and a county permit for the manufacturing arm of their operation.

“We were all in the shadows,” said Cameron Hattan, after signing the document in a cubicle at the Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures office north of Santa Rosa. “We feel giddy. We’ve never shown our faces before as being part of the industry.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.