Chico’s missed opportunity

Oroville far ahead of the game on taking advantage of the cannabis economy

On Tuesday evening (June 19), Oroville’s City Council voted in favor of placing a cannabis-related sales tax measure on the November ballot. It’s a step that the panel needed to take urgently, since the deadline for inclusion in the upcoming general election is around the corner.

While commercial marijuana activity is currently prohibited in Oroville, since January city leaders have been contemplating legalization, including cultivation and retail activities, under Proposition 64. Like Chico, Oroville is facing crushing pension obligations. The City of Gold also is anticipating a general fund deficit of nearly $2 million—attributed mainly to rising CalPERS costs.

Commercial cannabis may not be a cure-all for the municipality, but it’s one way to generate much-needed revenues. Indeed, there are models in place in other regions up and down the state. One is in nearby Shasta Lake City, which, population-wise, is roughly half the size of Oroville. There, in 2017, taxes from marijuana sales generated half a million dollars. (And that was just medical.)

In Oroville, insolvency is a real concern. That’s likely what compelled five of the city’s seven elected officials to move forward on this issue. Moreover, they probably realize that prohibition is driving residents to other communities, such as Marysville. People who use the herb are going to get it one way or another—from the black market that still exists or from proactive communities willing to embrace the benefits of legal sales.

Interestingly, the same evening, during its regular meeting, the Chico City Council’s conservative majority passed on an opportunity to discuss putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot (see “Trusts, taxes and … top hats?” Newslines, page 9). That would-be talk was not in reference to cannabis, but rather a general sales tax that the Chico Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying city leaders to consider.

The conservatives clearly aren’t in favor of upping the sales tax—and that’s a position shared by the CN&R. However, they also are staunchly opposed to considering commercial cannabis and its potential revenue stream—and that’s a missed opportunity.

As the largest city in Butte County, Chico has the potential to generate a significant amount of tax revenue from marijuana sales and tourism. Under its current leadership, that’s not going to happen. And by the time such discussions take place in the City of Trees, Oroville will be well ahead of the game.