YOUNTVILLE — For now, Yountville remains devoid of stores offering marijuana products. But officials have begun to ponder where to place future dispensaries should the town legalize cannabis retailing – or if California requires it to do so.
What areas of the Napa Valley resort town could host dispensaries, and which places are too close to youth gathering spots to allow cannabis sales, was the subject of a Tuesday discussion by the Town Council on the future of local laws that currently require marijuana users to buy the product elsewhere. The talks played out amid recent efforts by state lawmakers and regulators to widen the availability of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use.
Whether the sale of cannabis products arrives on Yountville’s timing or the state’s – or not for a while more – council members sought to prepare as thoroughly as possible for the outcome.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re welcoming a dispensary,” Mayor John Dunbar said during the workshop at Town Hall. “We’ve committed to you and to the community to discuss the pros and cons of a dispensary.”
Up in the air is what balance Yountville will strike between keeping marijuana outlets far from children’s gathering places and other locales, and providing enough possible business sites in a compact town only a few blocks wide from east to west.
The 600-foot radius around Yountville Elementary School will be a no-sale zone according to state law, but town leaders also discussed creating similar buffers around venues like Yountville Park to the north – which contains playground equipment – and the Community Center on Washington Street, which hosts kid-friendly programs as well as activities for older residents.
More aggressive exclusion zones of 1,000 feet could put much of Yountville’s business district off limits, including the V Marketplace between Washington and Highway 29.
Other cities differ in how rigorously they oversee dispensary sites beyond schools. An 11-city survey by Yountville staff – from smaller towns like Cloverdale to metropolises like San Diego — showed a variety of rules ranging from simply adopting the state’s 600-foot school buffer to extending that zone to 1,000 feet, or extending their sales bans to the vicinity of parks, libraries and houses of worship.
Meanwhile, adding urgency to the debate – in Yountville and elsewhere – is a state Assembly bill that would leave local governments little choice but to license cannabis outlets in proportion to the number of alcohol licenses within their boundaries.
Introduced April 11 by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1356 is intended to make cannabis more accessible across California, where 76 percent of cities and counties do not allow marijuana retailing despite voters’ approval of non-medical use in a 2016 ballot measure. The bill is scheduled to be heard April 23 by the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee.
Napa County was a no-retail zone for marijuana products until the December opening of the Harvest of Napa medical dispensary on Second Street, where customers must produce a doctor’s recommendation. The county remains without a seller of non-medical cannabis.
Ting’s legislation would require local governments to issue one cannabis retail license for every four on-site liquor consumption licenses, like bars and restaurants. That minimum would apply to jurisdictions where a majority of voters supported Proposition 64 back in 2016, legalizing recreational adult cannabis use – a clause that would cover Yountville, where more than 63 percent of town voters favored the measure.
Supporters of AB 1356 say a lack of access results in people who use cannabis, like caregivers and those who suffer from a variety of ailments like cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder among others, having to travel far to get it.
“Many cities and counties are currently not providing this access to their medically challenged constituents, even when a majority of their constituents voted for Prop. 64,” said Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, a co-author of the bill with Ting. “Banning and limiting access to cannabis in these jurisdictions only fuels the illicit market in our state.”
Cities that don’t want to meet the 1-to-4 ratio can write a local ban and place it on the ballot for the next scheduled election.
Among the hotels, fine restaurants and wine-tasting rooms catering to Yountville’s high-end tourism, some 30 businesses in town are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages onsite, according to Town Manager Steve Rogers – an unusually high number for a population of less than 3,000.
However, the Assembly bill sets a lower minimum of dispensary licenses for towns where the 1-in-4 formula would result in more than one cannabis retailer for every 10,000 residents. In such cases, the minimum is set by dividing the population number by 10,000 and rounding down to the nearest whole number.