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Napa City Council takes step toward allowing adult-use storefront sales of cannabis in city

Cannabis sales in Napa County

Cannabis flower was available for purchase at Harvest of Napa, which became Napa County's first dispensary at the end of 2018.

Adult-use storefront sales of cannabis are one step closer to being allowed in the city of Napa.

The Napa City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday, with council member Liz Alessio opposing, for city staff to prepare an amendment to the city’s cannabis ordinance that would allow for retail sales of cannabis products to anyone age 21 or older. That update will be headed to the city’s planning commission and, if approved by the commission, will head back to the City Council for final approval.

The amendment would come into effect 30 days following final council approval, said Vin Smith, community development director for the city. Smith said the council prioritized a discussion of the cannabis ordinance on a list of six policy objectives established in March this year.

“The direction to staff was: let’s change our ordinance to allow for adult use where medicinal use is allowed,” Smith said.   

Only medical retail sales of cannabis products are currently permitted within city limits, which means customers need a physician-approved medical use card to purchase cannabis from any of the city’s six dispensaries. If the amendment passes, those retailers would need to apply for a separate license to be allowed to sell adult-use cannabis products.

It’s been about five years since recreational cannabis use was legalized in California in 2016 as a result of Proposition 64. Though 57% of state residents — and 61% of Napa County voters — voted to approve the law, most California cities still don’t allow adult-use sales.

Representatives from Napa dispensaries and a few public commenters urged the city to move forward with the amendment. The representatives referenced a letter sent to the city by a coalition of five of Napa’s medical cannabis retailers last month, which requested the city approve the update and place a two-year moratorium on any new cannabis retail applications.

The coalition letter argues that the temporary ban on new cannabis retailers would allow the current retailers a chance to stabilize financially and become sustainable following the economic difficulties they’ve faced throughout the pandemic. And the moratorium would give the city time to figure out if and how to place a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in the city, according to the letter.

Most council members said they supported the change and a few had questions about how the change will practically be carried out. Most council members also said they don’t support the moratorium proposal.

Councilmember Bernie Narvaez said he’d like to address whether adult-use cannabis sales will be specifically taxed by the city at some point. He also said he wanted to make sure retailers are held accountable and that part of the revenue goes to cannabis education for youth.

Narvaez added that he’d like for future adult-use cannabis applications to require City Council approval, instead of requiring approval by only the city’s planning commission.  

“I support the adult-use. It’s not a question of whether we should or not [approve],” Narvaez said. “For me, it’s more about the details as we transition over to adult-use and how we partner with the retailers.”

Additionally, Narvaez said he thinks the proposed moratorium isn’t a good idea because it “goes against the spirit of competition.” He added that “every business took a hit during the pandemic.”

Councilmember Mary Luros said she supports the amendment but doesn’t support the moratorium. She suggested the city consider looking into implementing a local equity program, which she described as “a program that provides assistance to individuals and communities that have been historically disadvantaged and negatively impacted by the cannabis industry.”

Alessio, who voted against moving the amendment forward, said there are several aspects of the amendment that she wanted to have figured out before moving it along. She said it was important for the city council to know whether it wants to tax or not tax adult-use cannabis sales, and she also suggested the city set up a poll to hear the opinions of Napa residents on the proposed amendment.  

Alessio also suggested the city restrict retail sales of cannabis to people age 26 or older. She also brought up the impact cannabis can have on people’s ability to drive and various statistics about increases in drug use during the pandemic.

“I’d really like for us to look at the impacts this is going to have on our staff, on our organization, and also be really transparent and honest about the impacts it’s going to have on the community, the health of the community and the safety of the community,” Alessio said. “… I want to be sure that if we do move forward, that there is appropriate tax, appropriate fees, there’s appropriate education, there is appropriate staffing and cost recovery on this.”

Mayor Scott Sedgley said he supported the amendment. Impacts can be determined and dealt with, he said. If there’s a bad player among cannabis retailers, Sedgley said, the city can address them directly. He also said overtaxing cannabis will keep the unpermitted industry alive.

“We’ve discussed this to death across the state, believe me,” Sedgley said.

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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