The Oroville City Council on Tuesday directed staff to move forward with developing ordinances allowing for commercial cannabis activity, the first in Butte County.
While staff had asked for direction, Councilor Marlene Del Rosario made a motion, which was seconded by Councilor Jack Berry, leading to a 5-2 vote. Mayor Linda Dahlmeier and Councilor Scott Thomson voted against.
Before the council were several possibilities, including regulations for commercial cannabis grows and dispensaries and a proposed general or special sales tax. This comes as the city faces major budget restraints, including the possibility raised by the city’s finance director that the city could go bankrupt because of rising pension costs.
Debate over the item, that included lots of public comments, made the meeting stretch past 11:30 p.m. There were also five other regular items on the agenda.
Dahlmeier said she had major concerns about going against federal law.
“I think its a bad decision for the city or any council member to be involved,” she said. “If you want to change the law, it needs to be done federally. Until then, it’s illegal.”
She also said it seemed like city staff was showing bias in the staff report and that the results of the meeting were “preordained.”
Thomson said he was still against Measure L and Proposition 64, as he stated when he was running for his seat. He had an issue with the community being rebranded.
“Whether you like it or not, it’s clear there is a very strong stigma with marijuana that still holds true today,” Thomson said. “Do you want Oroville to be known for weed?”
Residents ranged from calling the council “brave” to questioning their morality, and voicing general disbelief that legalization was being considered at all.
Trudy MacPhee was one of the few at the beginning of the public comment section who was in support of the council looking into legalizing commercial cannabis activity. She asked the council to abstain from voting if they hadn’t “done their homework.”
“I don’t see how you feel you can go against the voters of the entire state,” MacPhee said.
Another woman asked, “Isn’t this a recreational town?”
Many residents voiced concern about the possibility of the community’s youth having more access to marijuana.
John Mitchell, a local pastor, said as a former addict, he saw marijuana as a gateway drug in many instances and was worried about unintended exposure to children.
“You have an obligation to see beyond the dollar signs,” Mitchell said. “We are sending a clear message to our children that marijuana is OK.”
Some expressed disbelief, despite the city’s budget woes, that the council was discussing allowing dispensaries and other cannabis businesses. Annie Terry, who runs the Oroville Rescue Mission with her husband, Steve, said she did not think legalization was the answer.
“When I think, ‘the city of Oroville is considering this,’ it amazes me,” Terry said.
Councilors’ religious beliefs were even called into question at one point. One man told councilors if they were in support of commercial cannabis, they must not be Christians.
Laura Page with the office of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, read a letter addressed to the councilors, on the congressman’s behalf, in opposition to the consideration before the council. He reminded the council that marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had repealed Obama-era “hands off” federal guidelines.
Bobby O’Reilly suggested a Q and A forum on the issue so community members could have their questions answered, as councilors don’t typically answer questions posed during the public comment section of the meeting.
There were some local-area present and former cannabis business owners there as well, who encouraged the council to reconsider its ban.
Jessica MacKenzie, president of the Inland Cannabis Farmers Association, said the issue at play should be people’s rights and if it was all about the money, maybe legalization wasn’t the right thing for Oroville.
“There are people who have the right to choose and that’s what we’re talking about today,” she said. “It’s a sea change and sea changes are hard. Bans do not change behavior. (They) only keep you from having control or revenue.”
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