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Backers push Napa to expand cannabis sales options

Banking off the growing popularity of the weed, a coalition of Napa cannabis dispensaries sent the City Council a letter on June 10 requesting it approve an ordinance to allow for adult-use sales.

And it just may be a new day and age for the Wine Country city that has been slow to warm up to making the substance legal as neighboring cities in Sonoma County have.

Napa City Manager Steve Potter believes the timing is good for the city to dip its toe into the cannabis waters that go deeper than allowing for medical dispensaries.

“Between the accumulation of social beliefs and values changing as well as a new council, it could be a lot more accepting,” Potter said, noting the council has two new members with last November’s election.

When Proposition 64 passed in 2016 allowing for expanding medicinal legal use in adults for recreational purposes statewide, Santa Rosa represented one of the first cities to jump on board in developing a program. Sonoma County followed, but the local government has just recently hit the brakes on the county Planning Commission’s recommendation to adopt a commercial cannabis cultivation ordinance that would expand the growing region. The plan was rejected in a 5-0 vote on May 18.

In Napa County, the board of supervisors has resoundingly turned down any movement into embracing that sort of agricultural crop on its signature, vineyard-laced hillsides.

Cannabis backers have worked on the board to try to get some type of ordinance that would allow them to do business in the county. However, a few months ago, when the issue came before the board, the panel rejected any government action that would allow for cannabis commercial cultivation operations in the unincorporated area of the county.

The Napa County Farm Bureau has voiced opposition to cannabis cultivation in the region.

The coalition request will make its way to the city of Napa’s work plan for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. It’s just a matter of getting to an adequate level of staffing. Since the pandemic took hold, the city has found itself down 85 positions to fill.

But with two new council members, Beth Painter and Bernie Narvaez, the dynamics of the panel may have changed enough to invite such a venture into cannabis.

Even if the council moves to expand how cannabis is sold in the city, cultivation would be a whole other animal.

“I think our focus will be on adult use retail,” Potter noted.

Cannabis industry advocates want to remind the city its process doesn’t have to be cumbersome involving a lot of staff time.

Caity Maple, who works as Perfect Union’s government affairs specialist, used Marysville as an example of how a city may quickly embrace the idea of adult, recreational cannabis use. The dispensary network based in Sacramento has a location for adult, recreational use in the Central Valley town.

“This could be something that helps with the budget restraints,” she said.

Like others, Maple argues allowing for recreational use removes whatever criminal element is associated with the substance still considered illegal by the federal government.

“I tell people it’s not a question of whether they want cannabis in their community. It’s there. The question is whether they want the tax dollars from it,” she said.

Any inroads to embracing the cannabis industry also can’t come too soon for Kaleena Quarles of Abide dispensary located near downtown. Quarles has been battling with forces from outside the city — delivery services infiltrating her city with product.

“I think we’re very close. The population is on board,” Quarles said. “Yes, they’re here for the wine, but they can also come for the cannabis.”

The tourism benefit just may be the pitch that wins over officials in this top-notch destination.

Along with the presumption cannabis may add to visitation in the area, the sales tax dollars have represented an attractive benefit for many jurisdictions.

After all, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported taxes collected from cannabis businesses since the state first started collecting in 2018 has amounted to $2 billion. This includes $1 billion in excise taxes; $256 million in cultivation taxes and $771 million in sales taxes.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, agriculture, energy and transportation as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times in San Diego County, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@busjrnl.com

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