Considering cannabis

Informational sessions open discussion on legal businesses in Oroville

This is one example of a cannabis dispensary presented during last Thursday’s information sessions on legalizing commercial activities in Oroville.

This is one example of a cannabis dispensary presented during last Thursday’s information sessions on legalizing commercial activities in Oroville.

Photo courtesy of SCI Consulting

Last Thursday, Oroville residents got the first taste of what life with commercial marijuana might look like in their community. At least, that was the idea behind two information sessions—one in the morning, one in the evening—run by SCI Consulting Group, which was hired in March by the city to study the matter.

The sessions, held in the Oroville Municipal Auditorium, focused on community research and outreach—the first of six key elements to implementing commercial cannabis, explained consultant Neil Hall, who led the morning session. The goal of the sessions was to provide an overview of what legalizing commercial activities would look like, including physical representations of businesses as well as things like zoning, application processes, fees and taxation.

“We’re looking at five main activities: retail, manufacturing, cultivation, testing and distribution,” Hall said. He explained those main activities and showed photographs of businesses in other communities to illustrate that the industry tends to be low-key.

“The only activity that is open to the public is retail,” he said. Manufacturers, for example, aren’t plastering signs on the sides of their buildings advertising what sort of business is taking place inside, he explained. And, as a regular inspector of cannabis businesses in California, he said the ability to control odor—a main concern for most communities considering legalization—has improved to the point that the smell can be nearly entirely contained within a building.

Hall said this is an opportunity for Oroville to take control of an industry that likely will grow in the region one way or another. Some communities have passed ballot initiatives, for example. “They are typically not as well-written as those written by a city attorney who is looking out for the city’s interests,” he said. He also pointed to the likelihood that the state will begin to take control from local governments if so many maintain bans on commercial cannabis.

“The state is gradually going to start saying, ‘If you don’t allow it, we’re going to,’” Hall said. “The state wants their money. There’s a bill going through [the state Legislature] that would allow deliveries in places where bans are in place. They say it’s about access. Sure, maybe it’s about access. But it’s really about money.”

Speaking of money, taxation is a key element that must be acted on sooner than later, Hall said. In order for a local tax initiative to qualify for the November ballot, the process must begin no later than July. A special election would be costly, he warned. He broke down how some nearby communities have handled the matter. Shasta Lake, for instance, has a fairly complicated system that taxes retail stores at 6 percent, nurseries and distribution facilities at 3 percent and cultivation facilities per square foot. Davis, on the other hand, taxes all cannabis businesses at 10 percent.

The second half of the information session was opened up for citizen input. Tom Lando, interim city administrator, prefaced this portion by alerting the 35 or so in attendance that “this is an informational meeting, not a public hearing.”

Most of those who spoke, however, treated it as the latter, providing reasons why they were for or against cannabis itself and allowing related businesses in Oroville. Some valid questions were raised, however, such as how businesses will be able to operate without the ability to bank (banks that are federally regulated cannot accept money from businesses that are not federally recognized).

“Commercial real estate is going up,” one man said. “What’s the impact that this is going to have on our community?”

The next step in the process, Hall said, will be putting together a stakeholders group to draft an ordinance. There also will be a public hearing on June 19, Lando added.

In all, Hall told the CN&R this week, attendance at both sessions was less than expected, though he felt they went well.

“We were surprised, because we expected a larger turnout in the evening,” he said. “The evening’s discussion was more animated than the morning session, but everyone was polite, and we had a civil discussion.”