Nevada City leaders face a critical deadline in the process to regulate proposed medical marijuana dispensaries.
Wednesday marks the end of a 90-day moratorium on marijuana shops in Nevada City, so council members meeting that night must either vote to extend the moratorium once again, or allow it to expire.
If they let the moratorium lapse, they must approve an ordinance regulating dispensaries, opening the door for applicants. Three people have expressed interest.
Meanwhile, Nevada City resident Susan Reynolds has been collecting signatures from business owners and residents opposing a dispensary.
"No one knows what's going on, and when I tell them, they're appalled," Reynolds said. "A lot of people are completely uninformed."
As the debate continues, "it seem(s) like people have swayed away from the idea," said applicant and Nevada County resident Jim Henry, co-owner of the Golden State Patient Care Collective in Colfax.
Henry has a landlord ready to rent space in a retail area of town. Nevertheless, "it's not real encouraging at this time, and the atmosphere has changed considerably," Henry said.
Councilman David McKay has said he believes Nevada City is too small for a dispensary. Councilwoman Sally Harris has expressed concerns about safety.
Mayor Reinette Senum and Councilwoman Barbara Coffman support the concept.
Nevada City Vice Mayor Robert Bergman would not say which way he would go next week.
Even if the moratorium ends, a dispensary would have to earn Planning Commission and City Council approval before opening, as long as it meets the terms of a yet-to-be passed ordinance.
Since council members declined to vote on a draft ordinance last month, officials have been crafting another one, City Manager Gene Albaugh said Thursday.
Bergman, who, like other council members, has visited Henry's Colfax store, expressed concerns with the business model: A dispensary should act as a closed system in which marijuana farmers grow for the exclusive use of the dispensary to which they sell, he said.
Applicant Harry Bennett, of Nevada City, has said his facility would not sell paraphernalia, and smoking or ingesting products on the premises would be prohibited - provisions likely to be included in an ordinance.
A pot shop would generate sales taxes for the city - but perhaps not enough to cover the cost of regulation and law enforcement, Albaugh said.
City staff have suggested two locations - the Seven Hills Business District and Gold Flat Industrial Park - for possible dispensaries. However, the areas might be unsuitable because four schools operate nearby, staff noted in a report.
"I don't know where there would be a place in the city where someone would feel comfortable about having a shop," said Dave Painter, whose family has owned and operated SPD Market in the Seven Hills district since 1959. "I have no problem with it, but it's too bad the drugstores can't just dispense (marijuana)."
High school district Superintendent Ralf Swenson plans to speak at the Aug. 12 meeting, highlighting the district's concerns about drug use among students in general - and a $5 million grant the county Superintendent of Schools Office just received for, among other things, drug and alcohol abuse prevention.
"We want that to be something the City Council considers in its decision," Swenson said.
Those who say marijuana alleviates health problems also want consideration.
"It's very mainstream," Alta Sierra resident Carole Chapman said. She uses it to ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome, and also has applied to open a dispensary.
"I'm just a grandma who needs it," Chapman added.
Reynolds, armed with maps showing the location of schools in the two areas being considered for dispensaries, wanted to slow down the whole process.
"For people who don't want this, they have to show up and ask why," said Reynolds, who lives next door to applicant Bennett. "There simply hasn't been enough time for the community to access or digest the information."
Wednesday's Nevada City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 317 Broad St. downtown.