There was no clear consensus among the group who attended last week’s Community Forum discussion on whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in Calistoga.

A few people shared concerns about allowing a marijuana dispensary in Calistoga for fear of making weed more available to youth, citing drug and alcohol problems that they say already exist among the under-21 demographic. A few others noted how the city’s senior population, some of whom use marijuana medicinally and have difficulty getting transportation to Santa Rosa’s dispensaries, would be well-served by having at least one dispensary close to home. One speaker said it would be a good idea to get in on the “ground floor” before St. Helena does.

No enthusiasm was shown when Councilmember Jim Barnes asked if the couple dozen attendees would be willing to raise their hands to show who was in favor of a dispensary. He said he hoped the community forum would help him, as their elected official, understand the pulse of the community.

Mayor Chris Canning shared the findings that he and city staff have learned from talking with local municipalities and a city in Colorado that has similar demographics to Calistoga that now has four dispensaries.

During a personal ski trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, Canning took time out to meet with city officials there to hear about their experience with dispensaries.

After Colorado decided to allow dispensaries, Breckenridge was one of the first cities to jump in on the opportunity, Canning said. Since then “they’ve had a lot of interesting learnings,” he said. The towns have “a lot of similarities” — Breckenridge’s population is about the same as Calistoga and it is a seasonal vacation destination with about 3 million visitors, compared to Calistoga’s 1 million – and the dispensaries there generate about $8 million in revenue.

The officials there told Canning they have had very few problems, though they did hire a “cannabis cop” to keep an eye on the operations during business hours. They were “more than happy to share some of the things they think they did right in adopting this concept, and certainly some of the things that they would have chosen to do differently,” Canning said. They shared their ordinances, policies, and the dispensaries’ effects on the community.

One thing they did learn that is also a concern to Calistoga in general already is parking. Initially Breckenridge allowed dispensaries along its main street, but found that the high-volume, quick, in-and-out style business was unsuitable for that location and revised its zoning to move the four dispensaries to a zone off the main corridor.

There are very few areas available in Calistoga that might work – and because most of Napa County is ag-designated it is unlikely they will allow dispensaries, Canning said. The city limits are only about two square miles, state law requires a 600-foot buffer between schools and dispensaries, and the city won’t consider the main business district on Lincoln Avenue between Brannan Street and Foothill Boulevard.

A map passed around the room highlighted parcels in commercial zones where a dispensary might go, but Canning said that those areas are only identified because of their zoning, not because anything is decided yet.

Calistoga has been approached by 11 different dispensaries, nine of which led with the pitch that the business could bring in a lot of tax revenue to the city, but that aspect is “secondary to us,” Canning said. The city is more concerned with safety and quality of life, he said.

Should the city decide to move forward to allow dispensaries they would need to form new permit and zoning policies, City Manager Dylan Feik said. They haven’t gotten to that point yet, but the city would limit the number of permits issued at first to determine how it was working. There is no shortage of businesses out there that would be interested in opening up a shop in town, Feik said.

“They’re a cash business, they can afford very high rents,” Feik said. “If you think tasting rooms can afford rents, try cannabis. They come in with a lot of money.”

Barnes noted that Calistoga is a multi-cultural city and that needs to be taken into consideration.

“Let’s face it, the two different cultures look at this problem differently in a lot of aspects. That’s something we absolutely have to take care of, both of those views of marijuana,” he said.

A community forum on the same topic for Spanish speakers will be set at a later date, Canning said.

A couple attendees asked if the city was going to revisit its determination on the number of marijuana plants allowed to be grown outdoors, and if they might consider increasing the number from the current limit of two. The matter was not yet set on a council agenda, but officials said they would include it for discussion soon.

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