GROWING BUSINESS — Ed Newell, left, is the founder of New Tree Ranch, which is in the middle of its cannabis permit application. The New Tree Ranch pasture, right, is applying to be the future grow site for one-acre of cannabis cultivated for medicinal purposes. The ranch off of Wallace Creek Road is also home to a biodynamic farm and organic compost-providing cattle.

New Tree Ranch farmstead wants to cultivate cannabis for wellness

New Tree Ranch in Dry Creek Valley, a biodynamic farmstead retreat that aims to provide guests with a rejuvenating and hands-on farm experience, is working to get a permit to cultivate one acre of cannabis that will most likely be used for wellness and medicine.

However, the permitting process is proving to be a big hurdle.

“Through coming here four years ago and living on this ranch and eating this food we’ve all been able to get off all medications for all sorts of things from high cholesterol to blood pressure and our hope is that with natural medicines people can achieve those kind of goals and I think cannabis can help with that,” said Edward Newell, founder and CEO of New Tree Ranch.

Newell and Arthur Deicke, the lead point-person who’s been helping New Tree through the process, started their permit application procedure in February and still have myriad steps to see through before obtaining their permit.

Newell and Deicke took the time to discuss what the process has been like so far.

The time-consuming and arduous task starts with completing a lengthy list of studies.

“There’s biological studies, groundwater/water availability studies — a lot of different feasibility studies have to go into it and then depending on it, sometimes archaeological studies to make sure you are not disturbing anything. And then even how you are going to orientate cannabis rows, the state and the county look into that. And so, it is just a whole list of things that you have to get familiar with the ordinances and state regulations and then hope they don’t change,” Deicke said.

Other growers going through the permit process, such as Santa Rosa-based Justice Grown, have also reported having to conduct noise, traffic, odor and cultural impact studies.

Deicke said this has been one of the biggest problems since regulations change so quickly.

“The state doesn’t necessarily keep up, or care about what the county does and the county can’t keep up with the state so there’s always a gap, but you have to comply with both,” he said.

So far the ranch has completed their feasibility study, a study that determines the practicality of the proposed project, and the biological, water assessment and archaeological study.

Once the studies were completed the package was submitted to county planners at Permit Sonoma (PRMD).

However, dealing with the planning department has also been tricky, according to Deicke.

Deicke said since the fires and recovery, PRMD has seemed a bit overwhelmed, causing a backup in permit review.

“They contract out the planners to do the review on the plan and so initially when it was submitted we had a new contract planner assigned and then he didn’t work out and he was replaced. So there was a gap in coverage and movement on the process and they just put into place a new planner about a month ago and so we finally got some movement,” Deicke explained.

He said this movement included clarification of some points in their package, “We are in the process of answering those.”

The next step in the process will be sending the plan out for referrals to different agencies, which will provide input and feedback on the plan.

One such agency that reviews permit applications in its geographical area is the Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council (DCVCAC).

The council is appointed by the board of supervisors and while they can make recommendations, they do not have decision-making authority.

“We hear all use permits submitted to the county from Dry Creek. The county sends referrals to us and we contact the applicants to make a presentation for our council. We hope interested neighbors will also attend the meetings and share their thoughts on any proposed project. The council asks questions and listens to public comment and decides whether or not to recommend approval of the use permits. They may also approve a referral with conditions,” explained Sharon Pillsbury, secretary for the DCVCAC. “Our DCVCAC considers it very important that all applicants reach out to their neighbors prior to appearing before our council.”

Deicke said New Tree’s plan received an “extremely favorable” opinion from the DCVCAC, however there was an initial concern that the group did not complete enough community outreach beforehand.

After New Tree receives feedback from the referrals, adjustments might have to be made. Once that is complete, then the PRMD planners can ready the package to be presented to the board of zoning adjustments (BZA).

Deicke said the planner has to make sure the package has met all of the requirements and is as complete as possible before going to the BZA for approval. 

Simply put, Deicke said, “It has been a long process.”

Since this is a new permit, cannabis cannot be grown until the permit is issued.

The permit allows for 43,560 square feet of plants, or one acre.

If New Tree is awarded their permit, Newell said they would process the plants — they hope to use a strain with more CBD, which is more associated with medical use, off site.

So what advice does Deicke have for someone who may be about to start the process?

Being prepared to wait and spend a lot of money is the answer.

“You have to understand it is a long process … and there is a high initial cost associated,” he said.

He added that it’s also vital to have your land assessed to find out if there is enough area to grow the amount you want. He said applicants also need to think about if they have proper roads and access and adequate water. 

“At the outset you got to have enough money, enough time to begin the process,” he emphasized.

The permitting process alone can amount to around $150,000 to $200,000, according to Shivawn Brady of Justice Grown.

“I knew nothing about cannabis. I had been living mostly outside of the country and I didn’t know that it had gotten legal and I had my own views on it and as I started to look around a lot of the neighbors were growing it and I wondered if it would be something good for our project and so I started learning about it and looking at the oils that people would use on their bodies,” Newell said.

Newell said he saw friends transform from having chronic pain for 15 years to having their pain taken away with cannabis oils and tinctures.

“I was like, wow, this is amazing, this plant can do something,” Newell said.

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