Many counties in the US that have legalized recreational cannabis sales are experiencing an influx of tax revenue that surpasses all expectations. Sonoma, California is not one of those places.
In a rare occurrence, revenue from cannabis taxes and business permits will fall $1.8 million short of initial expectations in the fiscal year that ends June 30, reports The Press Democrat.
It represents, as Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar stated, a failure to bring in local cultivators into the legal market. This was not entirely unexpected, to be fair. Last year we reported that high taxes would likely force illicit growers to stay underground and potentially cripple the legal market. Angela Bacca also reported about the California Green Rush Blues last month for us, hearing why small-time growers and cultivators believe a bridge doesn’t exist into the legal market.
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It has reached a contentious point in Sonoma, where wine country flourishes as cannabis farmers face numerous roadblocks, despite both being legal enterprises.
“If the overall goal of the program was to favor a corporate, big dollar, new money industry then we have succeeded,” Linegar said at a government meeting. “If the goal was to create a workable pathway for existing operators, then I think we have failed.”
But taxes and regulations aren’t the only obstacle for cannabis in Sonoma. Over the past two months a string of home invasions have rocked the bucolic neighborhoods.
A series of home-invasion robberies with out-of-state suspects coming to Sonoma County to steal marijuana, cash and guns have set some neighbors on edge. Robbers broke into five homes during the Feb. 8 and March 12 incidents, tying up residents and ransacking their homes. In one case, a man was killed and another man wounded by gunfire. The targets weren’t legal marijuana growers, according to investigators, but that brings little comfort to people uneasy about marijuana farms near their homes.
“We started to get worried,” said Steve Imbimbo, 59, a retired construction estimator who is trying to get the county to end cannabis cultivation in his remote community in the wooded hills west of Healdsburg. “What if guys come looking for it and come to our house instead? We see cars now up here we’ve never seen before.”
It doesn’t appear like things will improve anytime soon. Though Sonoma County supervisors have spoken lip service to connecting growers and the mainstream, their policies haven’t realized that rhetoric. Sonoma has an estimated 5,000 marijuana growers, but only provided permits for three cultivation programs that can operate in unincorporated areas. Applicants included county newcomers—demonstrating how desirous the area is—with no preferential treatment given to long-term local growers.
Juxtapose that with how Oakland reserves “half of the city’s marijuana licenses for low-income residents, those convicted of a cannabis crime or those living in a specified neighborhood with high drug enforcement.” Empowering local and disenfranchised groups is instrumental in maintaining the playing field for all—otherwise the resources of big-time corporations with win out. Sonoma County is just another example of that.