Circling the pot

City Council moves on marijuana ordinance

Near the end of a public hearing during the Chico City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 2), City Attorney Lori Barker made it clear to Chico’s elected leaders that it likely would be mid-April before the panel would see a draft ordinance related to marijuana cultivation and dispensaries.

Barker gave that estimated timeline following nearly two hours of council discussion that was best summed up by a statement Councilman Jim Walker made about his participation in what is apparently a very confusing process based on the state’s extremely vague Proposition 215—the Compassionate Use Act.

“I’m kicking around ideas,” he said. “I think that’s what we’re doing here tonight.”

In a meeting back in October, council members discussed nuisance issues—complaints of odors from outdoor grows and crime related to the theft of plants—but they did not agree that an ordinance requiring only indoor cultivation (as several other municipalities have done) was the way to go. Subsequently, the matter bounced back to the Internal Affairs Committee.

The IAC recommended that the full council consider an ordinance for cultivation in residential areas and zoning regulations for dispensaries. And while a majority now seems poised to get some regulations in place, the trick is to create something that protects the interests of both medicinal-marijuana users and the rest of the community.

“We want to allow this to occur … as long as it doesn’t obstruct another individual’s right to enjoy their property,” said Mayor Ann Schwab.

Many medical-pot advocates have been waiting a long time to hear that news. After all, Prop 215 has been around for nearly 14 years. During a public-comment period, Dylan Tellesen, a local artist and Butte College instructor, told the council that now is indeed the time to take action on the matter.

“Patients in this community are tired of having to go get medicine out of a hotel room or pickup truck or someone’s garage,” he said.

Tellesen is the executive director of a local medi-pot collective called Citizen Collective, whose members have been working with city leaders for months on the issue and waiting to provide the community with safe access to marijuana.

Echoing him was a Chico-based pot lobbyist, who reminded the council that marijuana is a “life-saving drug” for many people. Max Del Real, owner of California Capital Solutions, said he’s been up and down the state, urging city leaders to adopt best practices. He said he’s visited 50 dispensaries during his travels and described them as similar to a traditional pharmacy.

“It’s like going to Rite Aid,” he said. “The only difference is, it’s alternative medicine.”

Del Real and Tellesen encouraged the council to place a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in city limits, but a couple of other speakers urged the panel to leave that up to the free market.

A majority of speakers advocated for safe and affordable access. One man asked that the city establish a tax that could be put toward a fund to help patients purchase their annual state medical-marijuana identification card, which Councilman Scott Gruendl later said cost about $188 for non-Medi-Cal patients.

In giving direction to city staff, council members were all over the place.

Vice Mayor Tom Nickell, for instance, who has experience with hazmat situations, appeared most concerned with prohibiting grows inside apartments, condos and other homes that share an adjoining wall with neighboring residents. Both he and Mary Flynn seemed amenable to limiting the number of dispensaries. Flynn said she appreciates a free-market perspective, but noted that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issues a limited number of liquor licenses for good reason.

The council discussed prohibiting dispensaries in residential areas and requiring them to be a specific distance from schools, daycare facilities and churches, and requiring an annual renewal process.

Schwab, who chairs the city’s Sustainability Task Force, said she was in favor of a highly regulated dispensary system with fees that benefit the city and limited outdoor growing. Jim Walker said outdoor grows should be out of the sight of the public right-of-way and perhaps set back a certain number of feet from property lines.

Councilman Andy Holcombe said he thinks dispensaries could be appropriate for the community and that the city should move quickly on the issue. When addressing concerns of safe and affordable access, though, he pointed out that safety issues for the community are just as relevant. He appeared not to favor indoor grows, saying that it “creates a lot of problems across the board.”

Mum for much of the meeting, Councilman Larry Wahl, appeared to be the only one with deep reservations about moving forward with an ordinance. He said that neither cultivation nor dispensaries should be allowed in residential areas.

“The public safety, I think, has to be paramount in this whole endeavor if we’re going to do anything at all,” he said.