Pot talk

Chico cannabis committee takes on commercial policy

A city advisory committee has begun discussing commercial cannabis rules and regulations.

A city advisory committee has begun discussing commercial cannabis rules and regulations.

For committee information, visit tinyurl.com/ChicoPot.

Crystal Keesey is excited about the prospect of a regulated cannabis industry in Chico.

Keesey, a longtime Chico resident and co-owner of the state-licensed cannabis business Golden State Herb—which comprises nursery and distributorship operations in Shasta Lake and a farm in Lake County—spends a lot of time on the road operating her business.

“The idea of having a regulated cannabis business in Chico, where my family is, means that I can pursue this business without putting tens of thousands of miles on my vehicle,” Keesey told the CN&R. She further explained that Butte County has a “robust black-market cannabis industry,” which means people who need safe, tested and regulated marijuana products may not be getting them.

Keesey was one of several members of the public who attended last Wednesday’s (May 22) first meeting of Chico’s Commercial Cannabis Advisory Committee, which was formed to advise the City Council as it considers allowing commercial cannabis operations in town.

Vice Mayor Alex Brown, who brought the issue forward, was appointed to the committee, which also includes local business, education, real estate and health professionals, as well as a subject-matter expert who is an advocate for regulated cannabis. The committee has been tasked with deciding which commercial cannabis operations will be allowed and licensed, where cannabis businesses should be located, whether to limit the number of licenses for specific business types and what requirements the city will want businesses to meet in order to operate locally.

During the first of at least five meetings on the topic, with a second scheduled for this week after deadline, committee members expressed their concerns and interests. Members asked questions regarding how to handle revenues, as current banking restrictions have left cannabis operations as cash-only enterprises, expressed concerns about advertising or marketing that could be attractive to children, and showed interest in how cannabis revenue could benefit the city.

Chico City Manager Mark Orme, who attended the meeting along with other city staff, said the city’s bank indicated it would be able to legally receive money paid to the city by the cannabis industry. Orme also explained that sales tax revenues generated by retail cannabis businesses would become general fund money, which means the City Council would have the final word on how it would be spent. An additional tax could be discussed separately, Brown said.

The questions came during an introductory portion of the meeting in which members laid out the issues they hoped the committee would tackle.

Jessica MacKenzie, founding member of the Butte County Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association and the committee’s cannabis expert, noted at the meeting that many questions members may have have already been addressed by the state’s three regulatory bodies for cannabis: the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health.

“There is already a lot of work that’s been done on limits and dosage and potency and advertising and signage and packaging for kids,” MacKenzie said. “There’s a lot of it that’s been done. Perhaps not as far as some would like to take it, but there is a baseline to begin with. These are not things that have not been addressed.”

She said the state spent millions of dollars and expended thousands of hours setting regulations that oversee how businesses should be run to operate in the “best public good.”

MacKenzie added: “What the local entities can only do themselves is … determine land use. Where do we want them? Which ones do we want? How many of them do we want? And are there additional constraints or permanent hurdles that we, as a local community, would like to place on them?”

Committee member Andy Miller, a family practice doctor and the health officer for Butte County, said that he anticipated discussing at future meetings advertising restrictions, flavored cannabis products, enforcement and packaging details such as serving and dosage information.

“Having been in meetings and worked with some of the people at the state, I would say that the idea that they have put together regulations on how to operate in the best public good might be a tiny bit of an overstatement,” Miller said. “I think that the combination of their limitations and the pathway they have taken requiring local licensing means that they have created a floor of regulation and that they both support and encourage locals to then come up with the regulation they think is necessary to keep their communities safe.”

Keesey, the cannabis business owner, told the CN&R that the state’s marijuana industry is “regulated down to what has to be on our ID badge.” She said regulations include restrictions on packaging imagery and opaque packaging requirements for edible products. She added that the amount of the intoxicating ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is regulated in dosages, with set milligram limits.

“I hope that every committee member will read the regulations,” Keesey said, adding that she was encouraged by the tenor of the meeting and the members’ “desire to build a consensus about sensible regulations for the community.”