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Calistoga’s leadership is poised to respond to the recent legalization of marijuana with a restrictive, ill-conceived, fear-based ordinance proposed by city staff. This unenlightened reaction to Proposition 64’s passage clearly does not pass the “smell test: an informal method for determining whether something is authentic, credible, or ethical, by using one’s common sense or sense of propriety.”

While progressive, future-thinking municipalities have been preparing for months to capitalize on the forecast change, Calistoga’s city council rushes to take their stand against the future. Without even waiting to see how Calistogans voted on Proposition 64 (results not yet available at this writing) and knowing that the measure passed in Napa County with 60.9 percent favorable vote (latest available results at this writing), city leaders are ready to act based on guidance from a weak and incomplete staff report that sends them down the wrong path. Primary issues of contention are the perpetuation of the bans on establishing medical marijuana dispensaries, commercial cultivation and outdoor cultivation of cannabis for either medical or recreational use.

Savvy leaders would look to the future and how to position their municipalities to reap benefits of the new law. The vote underscored a changing generational trajectory for marijuana in politics and culture and stands to invigorate California’s teeming medical marijuana economy. An article in the Sacramento Bee reported the state’s legal pot industry is expected to soar beyond the medical cannabis economy which is valued as high as $2.7 billion by a firm specializing in attracting marijuana industry investments. New Frontier data of Washington, D.C. and a group in Oakland predict Proposition 64’s passage could lift the California market to $6.5 billion by 2020: “We are expecting a robust, growing industry that will be one of the biggest employers in California—we are transitioning from the prohibited market to regulated market. And analysis for the California Department of Finance said recreational pot sales could generate from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over one billion annually in total tax revenue.”

While goal one of the city council’s objectives for fiscal year 2016-17 is to maintain and enhance the economic vitality of the community and the financial stability of the city, the staff report from Lynn Goldberg allocates one sentence to acknowledge the potential revenue to be generated by sales tax from retail sales from a storefront or commercial cannabis activities (e.g. cannabis home delivery services). While skirting the issue of revenue benefit, Ms. Goldberg takes a page of her 4½ page report to downplay the fact that if Calistoga passes the proposed, restrictive ordinance, the city would not be eligible to receive grants to assist with law enforcement, fire protection, or other local programs addressing public health and safety that will flow as revenue from California’s taxation of cannabis sales are distributed.

While our city leaders are more than happy to fill vacant store fronts with wine tasting and sales establishments and reap the benefits of developer fees as mega resorts transform sleepy, small town Calistoga into a high end, luxury tourist destination, they refuse to consider the biggest tax boon they could take advantage of. They seem content to inconvenience local resident medical cannabis patients, who now must travel over the hill to purchase their medicine, and lose the current tax revenues that pour into the tax coffers of Santa Rosa.

With the market for recreational marijuana is poised to explode at about the same time as our new high-end resorts open, Calistoga will be populated with well-heeled guests from the Bay Area used to a consumer friendly, competitive cannabis marketplace. While goal two of the city council’s stated objectives is to offer excellent professional services to all customers, they do the opposite by offering no cannabis related services to residents and the guests they seek to attract.

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While the council speaks of creating an environmentally sustainable community (goal four), they seek to deny residents the right to grow their six plants outdoors where the sun and heat provide the perfect setting for cultivation. Instead their new ordinance, if approved, will further add to the burden of an already taxed electrical grid by forcing those who wish to grow to do so indoors increasing electrical demand from grow lights and ventilation fans. Indoor growing also brings into play supplemental carbon dioxide generators, fueled by propane tanks, and ozone generators that both bring health and safety risks. Though banned by the proposed ordinance, these devices, which would be unnecessary with outdoor cultivation, will be hidden from view, making enforcement impossible.

As for complaints about the skunky smell of cannabis, savvy cultivators know there are strains that produce little odor. Neighbor complaints are best resolved by encouraging neighbor communication and negotiation, not heavy-handed ill-conceived regulation on the rights the electorate just approved.

Tom Sherman


Tom Sherman is from Calistoga