The consultant helping Oroville test the waters before the City Council potentially approves ordinances allowing for commercial cannabis plans to start doing outreach next month.
This comes as the council voted 5-2 on Feb. 20 in favor of a nearly $40,000 professional services agreement with SCI Consulting Group to gather community input, prepare proposals for fees and taxes and develop ordinances.
Mayor Linda Dahlmeier and Councilor Scott Thomson voted against the motion. There was the same split on a proposal to put commercial cannabis cultivation and sales to the voters as a ballot initiative, which only Dahlmeier and Thomson were in favor of.
Depending on the findings from the discussions with stakeholders, including representatives from law enforcement, school districts, the Chamber of Commerce, the city, county and the cannabis industry, some cities decide not to go forward with the rest of the process, said Neil Hall, business initiative leader with SCI Consulting Group.
“We generally get a good sense on where everyone in the community wants to go,“ Hall said. “We haven’t had an occasion yet where the council ignores what the community wants to do.”
The company has serviced 10-15 municipalities since the beginning of the year on commercial cannabis-related consulting. The work Oroville is requesting is similar to what the company has done for other cities including Shasta Lake, Merced and Richmond.
“We want to draft something that fits that community … that reflects what the values and preferences are of the local community,” he said.
One thing that will have to be weeded out is what Oroville voters were wanting when they narrowly approved Proposition 64 by 51.7 percent. Once it passed, the adult use of recreational marijuana became legal in California. It also set a framework for licensing cannabis businesses so they could sell recreational marijuana starting on Jan. 1 — with local approval.
As it stands, laws on commercial cannabis are patchy throughout the state. According to a Bay Area News Group database, there are cannabis dispensaries operating in the Northern California counties of Shasta, Siskiyou, Sacramento, San Francisco, Mendocino, Alameda, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Lake and Del Norte.
The conservative town of Oroville would be an unexpected trailblazer if it moved forward. It is already the first in the county to consider the possibility — notably, before Chico, where voters approved Proposition 64 by 60.9 percent. Under Butte County rules, only mobile deliveries originating from outside the county are allowed.
“The city of Shasta Lake for example, cities around them are starting to move,” Hall said. “Redding is considering an ordinance. Cities are saying, ‘We have a first mover now.’”
In areas where cannabis rules are different from one city to another, there have been issues with unregulated sellers undercutting businesses doing things on the up and up, he said.
“Cities that don’t have regulations see delivery services coming from all over trying to undercut the market,” Hall said. “We think, over time, that will go away, the market (will) normalize.”
In the past, the consulting group has invited members of the public to the stakeholder meetings where they had a limited amount of time to make comments at the beginning, Hall said. He said the company did not want to rush the process.
Hall also said the mix of people in those conversations was important, giving an example from a recent meeting in San Luis Obispo. It was eye-opening for some cannabis cultivators to hear about the amount of pesticides being used in the area and the problems that was posing, he said.
“There is an aha moment that happens sometimes,” Hall said. “That helps moving forward.”
He acknowledged there was risk involved for cities allowing commercial cannabis activity to take place, as the federal government still considers marijuana a schedule 1 drug (the same category as heroin and cocaine) and that is reflected in premium product pricing.
Recreational marijuana is currently legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. Hall said that no cities the consulting group has worked with have received any direct threats from the federal government.
“We want to be as transparent as possible in this process,” he said.