The sprawling, bucolic landscapes in rural Petaluma have long been the lifeblood for much of Sonoma County’s booming agricultural economy. Now, a team of entrepreneurs is hoping to break into those same fertile soils to usher in a new era for cultivation — that of legal cannabis.
The proposal to cultivate an acre of medical cannabis just outside of Petaluma’s city limits in unincorporated Sonoma County has drawn sharp criticism from neighbors, who late last year formed a coalition to oppose the project and other nearby proposals for commercial grows.
The potholed road that winds its way to the Petaluma Hills Farm on a 37-acre former chicken ranch at 334 Purvine Road is dotted with signs with the opposition group’s slogan: “No Pot On Purvine.” The application for the 43,560-square-foot indoor and outdoor grow is just one of 30 in county jurisdiction bordering Petaluma, where commercial growing and marijuana dispensaries are banned.
Adversaries take issue with water usage in an area they say is already struggling with limited supplies, overtaking of natural resources, security concerns, impediment of views and an overall shift in the social fabric of the neighborhood.
“We oppose commercial cannabis in our area because of the land use issues,” said Autymn Garvisch, communications manager for the group. “It’s not that we’re against pot, it’s just that we fundamentally oppose the commercialization of cannabis and growing of it on such a scale in the area where we live. We believe it’s the most inappropriate area to grow cannabis at a commercial scale.”
San Francisco’s Sam Magruder and Glen Ellen entrepreneur Gian-Paolo Veronese, who are partnering to make their long-held cannabis cultivation dreams a reality, said they’ve gone above and beyond the county’s regulations to create a secure and sustainable operation with minimal impacts.
“We’re only doing one acre of cultivation — we have some people who are saying ‘oh, it’s a large commercial grow,’ but Sonoma doesn’t allow large commercial grows,” Magruder said. “Not one of the licenses we’re going for is a large, commercial grow. They’re called small or specialty … big commercial grows are down in Salinas or Humboldt where they’re doing acres and acres of cultivation. We will really be a specialty brand to fit into what else is in Sonoma.”
The application, submitted to the county’s permitting department last year, seeks approval for to 10,000 square feet small mixed light use, 5,000 square feet specialty indoor use, and 28,560 square feet medium outdoor cultivation. It’s currently hard to pinpoint exactly how many plants will be cultivated or how many pounds of product will be shipped to yet-to-be identified distributors, Magruder said. There will be no on-site sales or cash kept on the property.
Much of the land will be leased to local farmers for cattle grazing and the land would also be home to a vegetable garden that would provide specialty goods to local eateries, he said.
Magruder, who graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in botany, biology and sustainable agriculture and has spent 20 years cultivating medical cannabis, hopes the farm can help set the standard for the burgeoning industry. The operation will be closed to the general public unless a special event is being hosted and will include 24-hour security, carded-entry for employees, motion sensor lights and alarms, fencing and screening.