Redding’s lesson for Chico

Careful zoning can control the number of medi-pot dispensaries

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner’s threat to prosecute Chico officials because of their ordinance regulating dispensaries was a blessing in disguise.

When Wagner wrote his letter, back in early July, the City Council was just about to pass an ordinance that allowed two local collectives to create indoor marijuana-growing operations of up to 10,000 square feet in size. Each would also be able to operate a storefront dispensary out of the building.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey earlier had told the council that such a system was preferable because, while it was legal for a collective to grow marijuana for its members and to distribute it among them, it was not legal to transport it from a separate garden site to a dispensary. (The ordinance, however, only partly heeded his advice and allowed for growing elsewhere as well.)

By the time the ordinance came up for a final reading in August, city officials had met with Wagner and were taking his threat more seriously. The potential large size of the marijuana operations seemed to be Wagner’s biggest concern, they said. So the council voted to repeal the ordinance it had just passed.

But a majority of the council wants to provide safe access to legitimate medical-cannabis patients who are unable to grow their own. So now they’re talking about returning to their original concept, which was to craft a dispensaries ordinance based solely on land-use criteria. That’s the right way to go.

The important thing here is to include zoning restrictions, as Chico’s original ordinance did. As our story in this issue, “Redding’s take on medical cannabis,” suggests, a community can learn to live with dispensaries. Redding’s mistake was not creating specific zones for dispensaries, so it has ended up with 16 of them. Had it used its zoning powers, it could have kept the number of dispensaries down to perhaps half that. It’s a lesson for Chico to heed.