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Brent Cooper, police chief Oscar Ortiz at marijuana forum

Community Development Director Brent Cooper, right, discusses the new marijuana law Monday night at the Senior Center. The event also featured, from left, Police Chief Oscar Ortiz and Benjamin Bradley with the California Cannabis Industry Association, as well as Napa County Public Health Officer Karen Relucio (not pictured).

Residents filled a meeting room Monday night at the Senior Center to hear about the new recreational marijuana law and what American Canyon should do to either prohibit sales, or take advantage of them.

The large crowd — something not always seen at weeknight public meetings in this commuter city — included proponents and opponents of marijuana use who heard from law enforcement, public health and cannabis experts on issues arising in the wake of Prop. 64, the 2016 initiative that legalized the drug beyond medicinal purposes.

“We’re not thinking of the children or grandchildren,” said one woman in the audience. “They’re the first ones we have to think about, not the money” from taxing marijuana sales.

“This is illegal and horrible and unethical,” she added. “We shouldn’t have it in our city.”

Others disagreed, and even probed city officials present at the meeting to learn how American Canyon might benefit from taxing marijuana.

Heidi Zipay told the crowd that a city in Colorado — which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 — managed to finance an expensive roadwork project solely from tax revenues derived from marijuana sales.

“I think there are opportunities potentially for the city to make some money,” Zipay said in an interview after the meeting. “I think it would be fine for American Canyon to have upscale retail sales, commensurate with the size of the community. We should look into commercial growing opportunities. I think there’s tax money to be had.”

Under Prop. 64, the state of California can impose a 15 percent sales tax on cannabis and related products. But any city wishing to tax this new industry would have to first put a measure on the local ballot, according to Community Development Director Brent Cooper.

When asked by residents what kinds of money the city could reap, Cooper said it was too early to speculate given the newness of the law and the industry evolving from it.

Others in attendance agreed with Zipay that American Canyon should allow a dispensary to open here, even if there already are multiple dispensaries just south in Vallejo.

“We have to do it right,” said Tracey Nauright, who lives in American Canyon but shops in Vallejo for cannabis-based salve to help her with back pain. “We have to take it 10 notches above Vallejo” to draw customers.

Zipay concurred, saying: “That’s the market we can attract in American Canyon. If we’re going to be the gateway to the wine country, let’s be the right gateway. Let’s set ourselves up to be successful about it. Let’s be the upper echelon, not the lower” for dispensaries.

During the meeting residents asked questions about the health benefits and risks associated with marijuana use.

Napa County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio said as a physician she has treated patients using medicinal marijuana. She mentioned federal studies that have shown a positive impact from cannabis for people receiving chemotherapy, and those dealing with chronic pain.

She also warned of the negative effects of smoking marijuana for those with lung disease, or pregnant women using it and running the risk of altering brain development in their child.

Others in the audience brought up the issue of allowing backyard cultivation in American Canyon. Critics said the plant can have an unpleasant odor, while others tried to downplay or even dismiss this concern.

Police Chief Oscar Ortiz told attendees that his department has received calls about marijuana smells coming from nearby residences, and that it will continue to be something his officers will have to handle.

Ortiz mentioned he is applying for a grant so police can get more training on dealing with cannabis-related issues in the community.

Among those attending the meeting were members of the City Council, who came to hear what voters were saying and gauge their reaction to cannabis becoming part of American Canyon’s way of life.

Councilmember Mark Joseph said he came away unsure what the majority wants in terms of a local ordinance governing recreational marijuana.

“It sounded like it was a mixed crowd, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to get a pulse check,” said Joseph.

“There are a lot of people who are strongly one way or the other,” he said. “For me I don’t know what the read is yet. I need more interaction.”

“I’ll keep listening” to what residents have to say, Joseph added.

The city is currently conducting an online survey to solicit feedback from the community about marijuana. The survey can be accessed on the city’s website at www.cityofamericancanyon.org.

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.