Nevada City postpones decision on medical marijuana dispensaries | TheUnion.com

Nevada City postpones decision on medical marijuana dispensaries

City Clerk Niel Locke, far right, swears in new Nevada City Police Officers Kelsey Hess and Christopher Lewis as Police Chief Tim Foley, far left, looks on.

A resolution to Nevada City's pot shop wars will have to wait just a little bit longer.

At a contentious mid-December meeting of the City Council, a previous decision to award just one license to a medical cannabis dispensary caused enough controversy that a decision was made to amend the law to allow three dispensaries.

That amendment was on the agenda for Wednesday's council meeting, and plenty of proponents and opponents were on hand to speak.

But city staff instead asked for more time to draft the amendment.

“The city is very cautious on the steps we need to take. … We keep making slow progress.”

— Council Member Evans Phelps

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In late 2017, a selection committee had evaluated the three dispensary applications, conducted interviews with the candidates and submitted a ranking based on factors including location, community benefits, safety and security. Elevation 2477' was ranked highest by the selection committee, Nevada County Wellness was ranked second and Growing Community was ranked third.

The majority of city council members voted for Elevation 2477' during a November board meeting. At the Dec. 13 council meeting, council members Reinette Senum and Duane Strawser — who had voted for Growing Community — made a push to revisit the decision. In an effort to compromise, the council agreed to amend Nevada City's marijuana laws, which say only one dispensary is allowed to operate for a year.

That proposed language change was brought to the council Wednesday, but newly promoted City Manager Catrina Olson told the council members some things had come to light that staff wanted to investigate.

The concern revolves around language in the state regulations referencing "excessive concentration" — too many licensees in a town with a relatively small population. City Attorney Hal DeGraw told the council he didn't think the language would preclude Nevada City from having three dispensaries, but he wanted to get more clarity from the state.

"We want to make sure we get it right," he said.

Both Senum and council member Evans Phelps expressed frustration with the additional delay, but agreed with the postponement.

"I haven't been thrilled about the process and the way it's gone, to be honest," Senum said.

Senum added, however, she has some concerns she wanted city staff to address, including looking into whether regulation of the medical marijuana industry violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.

Phelps said after the meeting she understands the necessity of ensuring the city is complying with the law, but added, "I think it's unfair to the people who were promised they could open and now we're delaying again."

"I tried to get it through (a vote) last night," she said, adding, "The city is very cautious on the steps we need to take. … We keep making slow progress.""

Phelps insisted the selection committee followed every rule during the process of selecting Elevation 2477' as the most highly ranked dispensary, but said she supported expanding the number of licenses.

"Can our community support three? I don't know," she said.

A handful of Nevada City residents spoke out against locating dispensaries in the Seven Hills area, citing concerns with traffic, noxious odors and crime.

Several told the council members they should not amend their earlier decision to allow only one dispensary this first year, with one man calling even one dispensary a "Trojan horse."

Michelle Brown, a hairdresser in the Seven Hills neighborhood, told the council she is losing clientele due to the proposed influx of cannabis businesses.

"Let's not turn Nevada City into pot city," said long-time landlord Tom Newmark.

Supporters of Nevada County Wellness and Growing Community also spoke, arguing the additional permits would prevent a monopoly and promote healthy competition.

Kimberly Cargile, with Nevada County Wellness, cited a UCLA study purportedly showed crime went down in areas near dispensaries in Sacramento, arguing the council's decision should based on "reality rather than fear."

The matter is expected to be revisited at the next council meeting, on Jan. 24.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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