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As California moves close to the Jan. 1 start of legal use of recreational marijuana, there will be no sales in Yountville, or outdoor cultivation of the plant, just yet.

Looking ahead to the start of lawful non-medical cannabis use starting Jan. 1, the Town Council last week decided against immediate changes in its local ordinances, at least for now. An existing ban on marijuana dispensaries will stay in place, and cultivation for personal use remains limited to the six-plant maximum – only inside a residence – already protected by state law.

However, council members who unanimously passed the ordinance promised residents it will be mainly a placeholder until the town can schedule a public round-table discussion to guide how it eventually regulates the sale, zoning and delivery of marijuana-based products.

A forum could take place as soon as January, only a few weeks after Proposition 64, passed by voters in 2016, makes non-medical pot consumption legal in the state.

“I want to make clear: This is not a ‘no’ to anything we do not consider tonight,” Councilwoman Kerri Dorman told a near-capacity Town Hall audience. “This is not a full stop on the process. Tonight is still the very beginning of the conversation for us, as a community and as council members.

“We need to do it right, and do it right the first time. And that is going to take some time and community input.”

Dorman’s colleague, Jeffrey Durham, assured local cannabis users of his support for a legal path to marijuana growing and sales, but wanted Yountville to enter the process as well informed as possible – with the broadest range of voices.

“I’m in support of personal cultivation, commercial cultivation, the dispensary, delivery,” he said. “I just want to make sure all the decisions we are making are fully informed and fully involved with the rest of the community.”

Yountville leaders pared back sections of the ordinance that would have specified the zoning and restrictions of a dispensary, leaving those decisions to be made after a future community meeting. For now, a retail ban passed in 2010 stays in place.

A draft version of the law would have restricted a Yountville dispensary to selling only edibles, foods and candies laced with the drug, and not the smokable product. Only one would be permitted in the town, with the license to be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Some residents urged Yountville to broaden the range of allowed products – to permit cannabis-derived oils and under-the-tongue sprays, for instance – saying edibles may not contain enough of the substance to effectively offer the pain relief that causes many users to seek out the substance with a doctor’s recommendation.

Others called on the town to let residents grow personal-use pot plants outdoors as well as in, and asked for the end of a ban on cultivating inside apartment complexes. (Although Prop. 64 ensures the right of Californians to grow personal-use plants in private homes, cities can still allow or forbid cultivation outside of residences.)

“I have a concern about the idea that people in multifamily dwelling units are excluded from the legal right to grow their own cannabis,” said Yountville resident Pamela Reeves, pointing to the expense and hazards of indoor marijuana growing lights. “If there were an outdoor allowance, you can specify (growing within) a fenced area with a locked gate. It would enhance everyone’s life not to have it indoors.”

Ultimately, Yountville leaders chose to largely reaffirm the town’s existing marijuana curbs to avoid leaving any ambiguities in local law at the start of 2018 – gray areas that Mayor John Dunbar suggested could unintentionally leave the town without the power to block a future seller.

Even if the council eventually chooses to allow a dispensary next year or later, “if we stay silent on that matter (after Jan. 1), someone could open a dispensary – and then we could potentially regulate where and some of the conditions, but we could not prohibit it,” he told council members.


City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.