Council scraps pot ban

Proposed ordinance was too prohibitive, unnecessary, members say

This is an artist’s rendering of a proposed public art piece to be erected in the newly named Fred Davis Municipal Center, across from The Hands sculpture.

This is an artist’s rendering of a proposed public art piece to be erected in the newly named Fred Davis Municipal Center, across from The Hands sculpture.

“Let’s forget this, whatever it was.”

That was a motion by Chico Vice Mayor Sean Morgan regarding a prohibitive medical marijuana ordinance proposed by City Attorney Vince Ewing at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting (Feb. 2). The panel agreed unanimously.

The mood of the council while discussing the ordinance, which would have expressly banned medical marijuana dispensaries and delivery services despite the fact they’re already not allowed within city limits, was overall skeptical. The ordinance was crafted based on the new state Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which creates a framework for state and local licensing and oversight of commercial medical marijuana. But Ewing was clear in his opening remarks that the city was under no obligation to take action on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Tami Ritter questioned some of the wording of the ordinance. To her, she said, it sounded like the city would be banning marijuana outright. The section she was referring to, however, dealt only with “commercial” activities, Ewing explained. So, she found another passage: “No person shall cause, permit, allow, aid, abet, suffer, or conceal the delivery or transportation of marijuana or any marijuana-infused product to any person that either originates or terminates within the City of Chico, or engage in any act in furtherance of such purpose.”

To Ritter, this section—particularly the “or transportation of” portion—seemed, once again, overly prohibitive. “Then you can’t bring your medicine anywhere, or bring anyone medicine, or possess it.”

“That’s a reasonable reading of that particular section,” Ewing answered.

“So that would ban all marijuana?” Councilman Randall Stone asked.

“It would be an interpretation,” Ewing replied.

And so the conversation went, with council members posing questions and Ewing providing lawyerly answers, or no answers at all. At one point, Stone asked Ewing if the state had set forth a calendar for when it would begin licensing medical marijuana businesses. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” Ewing replied.

“I thought it was January 2018?” Stone said, to shouts of approval from the audience. (A footnote in Ewing’s own report to council states that the Department of Consumer Affairs will begin issuing licenses in January 2018.)

Fifteen members of the public addressed the council, several of them operators of medical marijuana delivery services. All pleaded with the council to not limit patient access to cannabis.

“I’m a little confused about what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ve already said that everything you want to [ban] today is already illegal,” said Patricia Smith. “History has proven repeatedly that bans don’t work.”

“We need to have an open dialogue, and this feels like, ‘Put the cup over it and hold it down,’” said Jessica MacKenzie, representing the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association.

Perhaps the most succinct comment of the night came from Alan Chamberlain: “Nothing at all is precisely all that Chico needs to do.” And that’s exactly what happened. In the end, the council decided to nix Ewing’s proposal. The overall consensus was that the landscape is rapidly changing, particularly with the November election looming (it includes multiple initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana), and there’s plenty of time before 2018 to decide on a licensing scheme.

In other council news: A group of citizens brought forth a proposal to rename the Chico Municipal Center—which comprises three buildings on the block bordered by Fourth and Fifth, Main and Wall streets—for longtime former City Manager Fred Davis, who died last year. The proposal included several requests: 1. To rename the entire block the Fred Davis Municipal Center; 2. To rename the city administrative building the Fred Davis Municipal Building; 3. To allow the group to erect a public art piece recognizing Davis’ service to the city; and 4. To allow installation of bronze plaques with reliefs of Davis’ face on each of the three buildings in the municipal center.

Over a dozen citizens spoke on the proposal. Many were fervently in favor of the changes; others argued that while Davis did dedicate much of his life to Chico—he served as city manager for 39 years—the plan was over-the-top. Some council members suggested adopting just one of the name changes but not both; in the end, however, the proposal was accepted, 5-2, with Councilwomen Ritter and Ann Schwab dissenting.