If you’re anything like me, you were skeptical about whether this conservative City Council would honor the will of Chico voters by pressing forward with cannabis regulation. You were surprised when they seemed to pick up where the previous council left off: With a well-researched, well-vetted, and complete package of cannabis laws allowing a regulatory environment to replace the 2013 ban.
Your representatives assured you they had no intention of stalling or stopping cannabis from moving forward – they simply wanted immediate revenue for the city in exchange for allowing businesses to operate here. No argument there! Yet, at the May 4 meeting, when the Council was presented with two viable revenue options, the panel didn’t choose one and re-open the application period for allowed cannabis businesses who are ready to invest in our community. Instead, the council dismantled years’ worth of work by staff and consultants, and disregarded countless hours of public input.
Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds made the motion directing staff to prepare new policies that would (1) at least temporarily eliminate manufacturing, distribution and testing from allowed business types; (2) reduce allowed storefront dispensaries from four to three; (3) replace the previously adopted merit-based ranking system of application approval with one that rewards business operators with the deepest pockets; and (4) somehow still re-open the business application process on June 1.
You might do a double-take before realizing that not only would that likely delay the legal cannabis industry in Chico for several months at least (first broken promise), but it would significantly reduce the revenue and community benefit this council was so adamant about getting in the first place (second broken promise). The result: 60-plus percent of Chico residents who asked for a legal market are left waiting, dozens of prospective local business owners are left without options, hundreds of good-paying jobs are off the table during one of the most severe economic crises of our time, and ALL of the economic benefit manufacturing and distribution businesses offer will now be sent out of town.
There was one thing that members of the Cannabis Citizens Advisory Committee unanimously agreed upon during the 10 public meetings that led to a well-rounded policy package–to prioritize local ownership of all cannabis businesses. They knew that creating barriers to “block out the little guy” meant outside investors would control the cannabis market over local entrepreneurs who are invested in and accountable to our community. Instead of heeding these unanimous recommendations, this council appears willing to auction off retail dispensary licenses to the highest bidder while eliminating some of the highest-paying jobs in the industry. Regrettably, I was among the “yes” votes to discuss this further, because I (like you) was offered a last-minute hodgepodge of actions to consider, with no opportunity to analyze merits or review supporting documentation.
Will Chico finally have a cannabis marketplace that benefits the community at large? Uncertain. It likely won’t be kicking off on June 1. And if this is your council’s chosen path, it will fly in the face of recommendations from the committee, staff, and city-hired consultants. What happened on this issue teaches us an important lesson: At best, we can expect haphazard and misinformed policymaking from this council. At worst, we can expect shady, bait-and-switch politicking to take precedence over reason, logic, and public input.
The author is a member of the Chico City Council.