OROVILLE — The Oroville City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to introduce two ordinances to outline permitting rules and zoning for commercial cannabis businesses after the city Planning Commission delayed its recommendation for another month.
Councilor Scott Thomson voted against the ordinances, and Mayor Linda Dahlmeier was absent. The ordinances were approved with one amendment, to strike a line that said minors could come into dispensaries if they were accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
The meeting was an unusual one, as it started early and included a portion held as a joint session with both the council and the Planning Commission.
After hearing a presentation from SCI Consulting Group and dozens of opinions during two public hearings, the commission debated. The city hired the consulting firm earlier this year to gather public opinion and create ordinances to regulate commercial cannabis.
Public comments on the ordinance ran the gamut from admiration of the council to disbelief that the changes were being considered at all.
One fear that came up again and again was about the potential effect on youth in Butte County. Others were sure that “the five” had already made their minds up and wouldn’t be impacted by comments from the public.
It quickly became clear that commissioners were not ready to take a vote to approve or deny the ordinances, so they voted to hold off on making a recommendation.
Commissioners said there was insufficient time to consider the ordinances, having seen them for the first time on Friday and then receiving amendments on Monday. They did suggest increasing the proposed buffer of 600 feet between cannabis businesses and schools and day care centers and also including a buffer between residences.
Commissioner Carl Durling addressed the elephant in the room — this would all be going against federal law. Despite California’s Proposition 64 making adult marijuana use legal and paving the way for cities to offer licenses, cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government.
“You can hide from that; you can bury your head in the sand, but that is something that I cannot do,” Durling said.
Councilors offered little to no comment before voting with the majority in favor of the ordinances.
Councilor Art Hatley said he couldn’t “live with” children being allowed to come into cannabis shops with their parent or guardian. The council then gave consensus to remove that line in the ordinance.
Thomson voiced concerns about there not being a “cease and desist” clause in the ordinances. He also said he was worried about greenhouses being visible, products being marketed to kids and also the number of additional officers needed.
“I hope this council does thoroughly listen to our Planning Commission,” Thomson said.
Addressing his first issue, City Attorney Scott Huber said that the cannabis business permits would only last for one year and didn’t include property rights. So, the council could choose not to renew a license after one year and that business would have to stop operating.
Under new ordinance, the city could license a maximum of three dispensaries. Regulations for various types of cannabis businesses, from retail to cultivation and distribution, are included. It is unclear if the ordinances would be eliminated if the proposed local cannabis business tax measure is voted down.
Though the mayor was not present, she likely would have voted against the ordinances, based upon her previous record of voting on cannabis-related issues. This year, Dahlmeier voted in opposition to hiring a cannabis consultant and putting the marijuana business tax measure on the November ballot.
Only when the council talked about repealing the utility user tax, a suggestion by Councilor Thomson, did councilors in favor of the ordinances make clear that the city’s need for additional revenue was a driver behind their push to bring cannabis activity to Oroville.
Councilor Linda Draper said that her understanding was the city only had its head above water currently because of one-time money. The city will be in the black for another year and then it will go into the red because of rising pension obligation costs, Draper said.
That’s why passing a 1 percent sales tax and a tax on cannabis businesses is important, she said.
“Those are our two options to bring in a considerable amount of money,” Draper said, adding that councilors would be “complete idiots” to do away with the utility user tax, which brings in $1.8 million annually.
Councilor Marlene Del Rosario said that councilors were putting themselves “on the line” because they were desperate for money and no one else had brought forward any better options.
“Don’t just say there are other ways. Tell us what they are,” Del Rosario said. “Stop berating us for trying to do something for the city, please.”
There was no motion brought forward on the utility user tax.