Locals got a chance Thursday to give input to the consulting firm hired by the city to gather public opinion and draft ordinances to regulate cannabis in the city of Oroville.

The council voted 5-2 in February to hire SCI Consulting Group for $40,000 to prepare tax and fee proposals and provide the aforementioned services. Mayor Linda Dahlmeier and councilor Scott Thomson voted against the motion and said they were in favor of allowing residents to vote on it instead.

Representatives for the firm got a mixed bag of opinions at the forum in the Municipal Auditorium on Thursday. While there was a fair amount of opposition — the first speaker was a representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa who reminded everyone this would be against federal law — discussion over the hot button topic was civil and went without disruption.

There were about 40 people in attendance. Though scheduled for three hours, the forum wrapped up in about two hours. A second meeting was held in the evening.

A small crowd gathered at the Municipal Auditorium to hear how the city of Oroville could regulate commercial cannabis activity. (Risa Johnson, Mercury-Register)

The next step will be for the firm to establish a stakeholders group, consisting of representatives from backgrounds like law enforcement, finance, planning, schools, churches and businesses. Some attendees suggested local leaders in other fields, such as rehabilitation and health care, which Neil Hall, business initiative leader for SCI Consulting Group, said after the meeting would be taken into consideration.

Hall started his presentation with a brief history of the legalization of cannabis and then explained the company’s process for developing tailored ordinances and tax measures for California cities.

Next, community members were offered three minutes each at the microphone. Tom Lando, interim city administrator, said the meeting was intended to be informational and invited the public to email the city with positions in favor or in opposition of allowing commercial cannabis activity.

To send a message to the city, go to cityoforoville.org/how-do-i/contact-us.

The City Council was not present to listen to public comments, though Vice Mayor Janet Goodson was in attendance.

What is right for Oroville?

Hall said the purpose was not to impose but to find regulations that would suit Oroville well. He acknowledged there was nearly a 50/50 split in Oroville on Proposition 64, which legalized the adult recreational use of cannabis in California when approved by voters in 2016.

“Your input is extremely important,” he said.

After the forum ended, Hall said some cities the firm worked with decided not to move forward with regulations after SCI Consulting Group shared what was learned through public opinion research.

If the council gave the green light, it could make decisions about who could operate in Oroville. For example, preference could be given to local residents and veterans, Hall said.

The council should ensure it would be a sustainable environment for businesses, he said. One thing the council shouldn’t do is “set them up to fail,” he said.

Related: Oroville first in Butte County to rethink ban on commercial cannabis

Hall said he had witnessed the influence that regulation of cities has had on their bordering municipalities, which are starting to allow cannabis activity in some places and getting competitive with tax rates. Oroville could be the first city to allow it in Butte County.

The city could also decide which type of industry it wanted to allow — from retail and delivery to cultivation and testing.

“I personally believe testing is extremely important,” Hall said, adding that there were few testing facilities to keep up with increasing demand.

Only retail facilities are open to the general public and usually buildings where cultivation and testing take place go unnoticed, without much signage and located in industrial areas, he said.

Hall then asked the audience to indicate if they were interested in working in different areas of the industry. At least a few raised their hands for each category, with the most interest appearing to be in retail, which Hall said was typical.

Other cities have pushed forward regulations through citizen initiatives, but Hall said those were not usually as well thought out as ordinances prepared in a city’s best interest.

If the council wants to have a taxation mechanism in place, it will need to file a tax measure resolution by June 20, according to the presentation.

Hall clarified the council wouldn’t need to decide whether or not to allow commercial cannabis activity before getting a tax measure in place.

Public comment

Laura Page with the office of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said the information presented by the consultant was “very biased” and the local voting results on Proposition 64 were not representative of the community’s opinion on allowing cannabis sales and cultivation in its own backyard.

Bobby O’Reilly said this all seemed to be up to the council, not the community, since the council voted in February to hire a consultant rather than putting it to voters. O’Reilly also asked how the city would be able to deposit revenue deriving from cannabis — going against federal law — and if Oroville might lose out on grant funding as a result.

After the meeting, Hall said no city the firm has worked with has experienced any issue in depositing money into their bank accounts or being reprimanded through loss of federal grant funds.

David Pittman, a former Oroville city councilor, said he was concerned about youths getting easier access to marijuana products and other unintended consequences like businesses leaving the city. Pittman said he also felt the presentation was biased and that he would like to know more about black market prices, to see if the city could even compete with them.

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After a string of comments in opposition, some spoke of the medicinal benefits of products like cannabidoil and in favor of local regulation.

Anasuya Basil, a health care professional in Chico, said the way she viewed cannabis changed when she started asking questions. She realized many of her patients used marijuana and her colleagues said the benefits warranted further study. Basil said it “doesn’t seem fair” to send people to Oakland to get access to licensed cannabis products.

Jessica MacKenzie, a local advocate of cannabis regulation, said cannabis is already here and the point is to gain some control, not increase the market. An all-out ban on activity — the current law of the land — stimulates bad behavior, she said.

MacKenzie said some were motivated by money to pass regulations but warned it wouldn’t be a “golden cash cow” that would solve all of the city’s issues.

Others expressed that they wanted to know more about how cannabis activity in the city would impact law enforcement and the community.

Lando, the interim city administrator, said the council was probably about a month away from discussing a related ordinance.

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