Chico City Council gamed on dispensaries

Ramsey harshes its medi-pot high by bringing in a ringer

On July 5, following “almost 30 months of research, deliberations, discussions, and consideration,” as City Manager Dave Burkland described it in a memo to the Chico City Council, the council approved an ordinance that would have allowed establishment of two medical-cannabis dispensaries in the city.

Two councilmen, Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen, voted against it on principle, and Mayor Ann Schwab opposed it because she thought that, at up to 10,000 square feet each, the dispensaries would be too large.

On Aug. 16, the council did an about-face and repealed the ordinance on a 5-2 vote, with Mary Flynn and Scott Gruendl dissenting.

What happened? In a nutshell, the council got gamed.

The big winner was Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who brought in a ringer in the person of U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner. Wagner issued a veiled threat to prosecute council members and even city staff for “facilitating” commercial cultivation activities by passing the ordinance.

Mind you, nobody thought Wagner would follow through on the threat. Most cities in California allow dispensaries, and none of their officials have been prosecuted. Redding, for example, has an estimated 17 dispensaries. Chico is small potatoes.

Besides, imagine the uproar that would result from arresting elected officials for doing something that is perfectly legal under California law. It wasn’t going to happen.

But the threat was sufficient to scare City Manager Dave Burkland, who recommended repeal, and at least two council members, Jim Walker and Andy Holcombe, who voted for it after supporting the original ordinance.

To his credit, Holcombe was willing to support an ordinance allowing smaller dispensaries (1,500 square feet) that could fly under Wagner’s radar. He also noted the city wasn’t repealing its ordinance allowing cultivation, which is also illegal under federal law. And he wondered where “seriously ill” people who had legitimate recommendations for cannabis but who were disabled or lived in apartments were going to obtain their medicine.

This is a question Mike Ramsey has failed to answer. Now he’s been joined by the Chico City Council.