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Top 10 Stories of 2021: No. 9

Top 10 Stories of 2021, No. 9: Adult-use retail cannabis is likely coming to Napa

Marijuana

A pair of buds on a Wild Thailand marijuana plant.

With the quantity of Napa’s dispensaries steadily climbing, the city of Napa is set to move early next year to permit retail sales of cannabis to adults in the city. 

It’s been five years since recreational cannabis use was legalized in California. That 2016 legislation was known as Proposition 64, which 61% of voters in Napa County voted to approve compared to 57% of state residents overall.

But California cities have been slow to embrace cannabis businesses. Most still don’t allow adult-use cannabis sales, including the city of Napa.

The city still currently only permits medical sales of cannabis through an ordinance passed in 2017 — the adult-use ordinance would come into effect in roughly a month after the council approves it. 

That means customers need a physician-approved medical-use card to purchase cannabis products at any of the city’s six dispensaries. The medical card required has become less of an obstacle over time — patients don’t have to see a physician in-person and can obtain a card over the phone — but it still presents a hurdle for interested customers like tourists, retailers say.

In February this year, the Napa City Council voted to include the cannabis-selling ordinance on a list of six policy objectives to prioritize this year. The new adult-use permits — available to businesses 30 days after final city council approval — would allow for anyone age 21 or older to purchase cannabis products from retailers with those permits.  

Representatives of cannabis retailers have said opening up adult-use sales would boost business considerably for the dispensaries, which in turn would bring increased tax revenues to the city.

Harvest House of Cannabis, Napa’s first dispensary, opened right at the end of 2018. Five more cannabis retailers have opened up in the city since then, including Perfect Union and Abide this year.

Aimee Henry, an owner of Napa Cannabis Collective, said at a city planning commission meeting that she anticipates the business to have about 1,500 customers each month with adult-use allowed, compared to the 300 to 500 that currently shop at the business in the same time frame.

Though a coalition of five of Napa’s current dispensaries have expressed concerns about other dispensaries rapidly moving into once adult-use becomes allowed, the council didn’t express support for a requested 2-year moratorium on new adult-use cannabis retail applications.

Henry said at the planning commission meeting the moratorium would benefit both the city and the current retailers. The retailers would be able to stabilize financially after taking a hit from economic difficulties spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. And the city would have time to decide how and if to limit the number of dispensaries allowed in the city.

“Our thought process was, give the city time, give us time to catch up to the marketplace and then that also allows for public comment and observation to give an idea of if you want to put a cap in place later down the road and how many that cap should be if you decide to do that,” Henry said.

A letter sent by the coalition to the city suggested that not capping the number of dispensaries would impact each company’s ability to “balance their budgets, operate sustainably and give back to the Napa community.”

Councilmembers and planning commissioners for the most part expressed that they didn’t support the suggested moratorium because it goes against the spirit of competition. Two planning commissioners wished to recommend establishing a one-year moratorium to the city council, but didn’t have the votes to pass that suggestion.

Whether or not adult-use applications will flood into the city next year remains to be seen. Regardless, the coalition of retailers has framed allowing adult-use sales as opening up a significant tax-base for the city and contributing to Napa’s tourism industry.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated tourism and ravaged local government budgets,” the letter says. “Cannabis brings a unique opportunity to stabilize and build tourism. People are traveling from all around the world to taste Napa’s fine wines, and now it's fine cannabis.”

Napa County's Top 10 Stories of 2021

Now through the end of the year, the Napa Valley Register will be counting down the top news stories of 2021. Check back each day to see what made the list.

Check out highlights from the Calistoga Tractor Parade. Video by Tim Carl.

Edward Booth's most memorable Napa Valley Register stories of 2021

Here are five of my favorite stories I reported this year, from the fallout of an injury at Westwood Hills park to lingering earthquake damage in downtown Napa.

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

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