Cannabis caution

Butte supervisors ban sales, allow deliveries—for now

The supervisors’ chambers are packed for discussion on commercial cannabis.

The supervisors’ chambers are packed for discussion on commercial cannabis.

Photo by meredith J. cooper

The Butte County Board of Supervisors was presented with a series of options on Tuesday (Aug. 8) during opening discussions of Proposition 64 and, more specifically, whether to allow commercial activity regarding marijuana or to ban it. After a brief presentation, over an hour of public comment and a short Q&A session with staff, the supervisors voted unanimously to ban it all—save for delivery services—until at least next May.

Of the dozens of speakers, a majority of whom represented those who favor allowing commercial activity, some touted the benefits of regulating the industry and others highlighted the potential tax revenue.

“I don’t see an end game for banning it,” said Evan Sanders, a cannabis proponent. “I’m offended that people paint us as all bad actors. If we had a regulated market, then cannabis would be getting regulated.”

Others disagreed.

“Remember when Butte County was a nice place to live? If you pass commercial marijuana, you will see a mass exodus in this county,” said one woman, who acted as the spokesperson for those in attendance opposed to commercial cannabis.

The county’s task that day wasn’t a simple one. As outlined by Casey Hatcher, the county’s Economic and Community Development manager, the panel had several options before it: first, whether to allow commercial activity—including cultivation, manufacturing, testing, delivery and distribution—and if so, whether to tax it. The panel can, Hatcher emphasized, choose to allow some activities and not others. And, to make matters more confusing, the law still differentiates between medical and recreational use, meaning the supervisors could allow one and not the other.

“On the federal level, it is a Schedule I drug—that hasn’t changed in decades,” Hatcher told the board. However, she added, President Obama implemented the Cole Memo, which effectively says that if local jurisdictions take steps to thoughtfully regulate the drug, the feds won’t interfere. Since California voters approved Proposition 64 last November, the state has been working to implement a regulatory framework for commercialization. That will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018—hence a ticking clock for local governments to choose to regulate or ban.

Any tax, she explained, would need to be approved by four out of five of the supervisors (a two-thirds majority is needed) and then put to a vote of the people.

Butte County’s incorporated communities will face similar decisions. In Chico, the City Council has directed staff to ban all activity outright. Paradise did as well.

“Marijuana is a radioactive topic and it has been since the Vietnam War,” said Robert MacKenzie, a land law attorney based in Chico. “Paradise and Chico are going the wrong way, and you can see it.”

It appeared the board heard him and agreed. Supervisor Maureen Kirk, whose district includes parts of Chico, suggested not regulating delivery services, several of which currently operate within the county. “I believe delivery is a way of life in Butte County—we ought to continue with delivery,” she said. “I haven’t heard of any problems at all. And it seems to me it would be incentive not to grow, not to go to black market.”

County Counsel Bruce Alpert interjected that delivery presented the biggest enforcement issues for the county, mainly because transportation is legal on the state level and cannot be regulated locally. For instance, the state has said it’s legal to transport the drug through Butte County to points elsewhere and proving an end destination within the county would be time-consuming and not cost-effective, he said.

Supervisor Larry Wahl, who also represents parts of Chico, has long been a vocal opponent of any kind of legalization. He first proposed the board enact a ban on everything and come back for discussion within 12 months. He didn’t bat an eye at Kirk’s suggestion to add a friendly amendment allowing deliveries, however, and 12 months was amended to May, with discussion accompanied by reports from law enforcement and city staff on how other jurisdictions are handling Prop. 64. Bill Connelly, board chair, also insisted a committee be formed to include all interested parties.

“I’m not for marijuana,” Connelly said. “I have my opinions, personally, but I heard some pretty compelling discussion today that we ought to at least start talking to the other side. We have to figure a way to move this forward. I don’t want to be stagnated.”

The motion passed unanimously.