Napa’s Pot Ordinance Was A Bust
The year in which many people thought they’d see the county’s first medical marijuana dispensary selected and on its way to opening ended with no dispensary or drug in sight.
City staff spent the early part of the year reviewing applications in-house from six would-be dispensaries vying to be the chosen one. The city had estimated it would announce a preferred dispensary applicant in January or February, but that decision did not come until late summer.
The delay was reportedly caused by the close detail with which staff reviewed the applicants, city officials said.
In June, the city held interviews with its top three applicants. On Aug. 17, it named Harmony Patients’ Center of Napa, Inc. as its preliminary preferred applicant, citing its business plan and experience as superior to the other applicants.
The public comment period on the preliminary choice ended in September and city officials were set to make a final determination when a California appellate court issued a decision that uprooted the city’s plans.
On Oct. 4, an appellate court effectively overturned a medical marijuana ordinance in Long Beach, saying it violated federal law, which unlike California’s, maintains marijuana is illegal. Because the Long Beach ordinance was similar to Napa’s, the City Council enacted a 45-day moratorium on Oct. 18 halting the process of choosing a dispensary.
Key among the council’s questions were whether Napa would be able to heavily regulate dispensaries as planned under its ordinance. In the Long Beach case, the court said an ordinance that creates a permitting framework to allow medical marijuana collectives violates federal law.
During a special meeting on Nov. 30, the council extended the 45-day moratorium to October 2012 to give staff, particularly its attorneys, more time to sort through the legal implications of the court decision.
Councilmembers restated their desire to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to serve the Valley’s seriously ill residents, but said there is enough uncertainty about marijuana and possible prosecution from the federal government to pause.
When the council extended the moratorium, City Attorney Michael Barrett said he foresaw three options for Napa’s medical marijuana ordinance. The city could:
• Wait to see what happens with court cases and medical marijuana laws
• Revise its ordinance to decriminalize dispensaries in particular zones
• Revise its ordinance to ban dispensaries
At this point, the city is in waiting. Staff has said it is are working to find a way to rework the ordinance to allow dispensaries to operate within city limits while complying with conflicting state and federal laws.