City Council discusses how to regulate med-pot grows

There is little talk of creating a dispensary in Chico

Tuesday night was atypical for the Chico City Council. There were two, mostly noncontroversial, topics on the agenda, and most of the people in attendance left before the meeting even started, after Maria Phillips presented a new city art map and thanked those who helped create it. Most remarkably, the meeting was adjourned at 8:30—possibly a record for brevity.

The first topic of discussion was an amendment to a 1996 plan that outlined projects the city needed to work on to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. All those projects were completed as of a year ago, announced Capital Project Services Director Tom Varga. Tuesday he offered up a new list to the council, who approved it wholeheartedly and unanimously (Councilman Jim Walker was absent).

Then came the item of most interest to the dozen or so people left in council chambers that night: medical-marijuana dispensary zoning. As Assistant City Manager John Rucker explained, this topic was brought before the council by a concerned citizen, Michelle Cooper (he first announced the name as Meredith Cooper, garnering confused looks from council members and this reporter, but later corrected himself).

Cooper had written the council because her neighbors were growing pot outside and the smell had become a nuisance. The subject went to the council’s Internal Affairs Committee, which looked at other cities, such as Gridley, where outdoor growing is prohibited. The committee did not see that as a viable option for Chico, however, based on increased fire danger as well as the possibility of added home-invasion robberies.

“It doesn’t make sense to fix an outdoor problem by moving it indoors,” explained Councilman Andy Holcombe, a member of the IAC.

The committee recommended that review of zoning laws be done by the Planning Services Department to determine an appropriate location for a med-pot cooperative or collective—after the general-plan update is completed.

“Why wait a year and a half?” Councilman Larry Wahl asked.

The rest of the council, along with City Manager David Burkland, agreed.

So, now what?

A handful of community members headed for the lectern. One was Paul Harbison, who explained that he’s lived in his house, which is near both a school and a group home, for 10 years. Two years ago, his next-door neighbors started growing marijuana, enough for three people with scripts. The smell is overwhelming.

“I should have the same right as they do to have a livelihood,” he said. “Their medicine is making me sick.”

Harbison’s story struck a chord with many on the council, who asked staff about public-nuisance laws already on the books as well as use permits and other ways to regulate such grow sites.

One thing that seemed to keep tripping everyone up was the various terms for different types of sites and the regulations on who can grow marijuana. For instance, an individual can get a letter of recommendation from a doctor. That person is then legally allowed to grow pot. If that person can’t grow it at home, he or she can join up with others with scripts and grow as a collective, or cooperative. If that person is too sick or unable to grow it, he or she can have a caregiver grow it instead. Dispensaries, on the other hand, are more like drug stores. They come with their own list of regulations.

In the end, Councilman Scott Gruendl made a motion to ask the Planning Department to review Title 19 (zoning) for operating a co-op or collective, or private grow, during the general-plan process. He also proposed that the city manager work with staff to create a brochure for people who receive prescriptions. Wahl added a request that staff come back to the council in 60 days with “the fixings for an ordinance”—either a way to regulate within current laws or examples from other cities that have already confronted this issue.

The council agreed unanimously.