Our View: Much to learn from first to take the plunge on cannabis business | TheUnion.com

Our View: Much to learn from first to take the plunge on cannabis business

The Union Editorial Board

Nevada City made a gutsy move when it chose to be the first in western Nevada County to test the waters of cannabis-related business.

But as the process plays out, some fear rather than just dipping a toe the city could soon be in over its head.

For more than a year, City Council members have told constituents they would allow one medicinal cannabis dispensary and review that decision after one year. But soon after awarding Elevation 2477 its first license, and the backlash that followed, the council will now consider permitting more medical dispensaries.

That change in course, or at least pause along the path, is unsettling for many and for myriad reasons.

The city established its rules, called for applicants and hired a consultant to help choose the winner of the first license. But since making that decision, rather than moving forward, the council has been caught up in political infighting with complaints over the process and the scoring system — and whether they were followed — prompting one council member to even call for a grand jury investigation.

It's no surprise this issue is controversial. Cities and counties across the state are coming to terms with the legalization of cannabis and establishing community standards. Here in Nevada County we've been embroiled in efforts to craft rules for cultivation of medical cannabis — including a pair of local ballot measures — for more than five years now and likely still have several months ahead before new rules will be put on the books.

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But changing course after already setting the parameters is not fair to all involved, and particularly those who make investments based on what elected officials have established the rules will be. For an example, two years ago Calaveras County set forth to embrace the economic boost from cannabis after devastating wildfire in that region. But, as the Sacramento Bee reported, a new set of supervisors banned commercial cannabis cultivation there last month and now permitted growers who funded millions of dollars collected by the county in application fees are likely to take the matter to court.

There's no mistaking that cannabis has long been part of our local economy, though largely through the black market and therefore leaving facts and figures of scale lacking. Some residents say they're concerned about creating a "marijuana mecca," while others say we're already there. And many are concerned about increasing accessibility to youth, whether tax money will actually materialize, and whether the federal government will crack down on states that have legalized what it classifies a Schedule 1 drug.

So when a town of 3,000 residents, including many opposed to such operations within city limits, sees seven cannabis-related businesses could now be in the pipeline and that the City Council is weighing whether to allow additional dispensaries, it's easy to understand the talk of Trojan horses and opening Pandora's box.

What we have here is a cultural collision that comes at the crossroads of change, which without clear direction often causes chaos, confusion and controversy.

So let's be clear about where Nevada City is currently parked on this path. The city has awarded one dispensary license where medical cannabis will be allowed to be sold only to patients, not those seeking to exercise the adult-use state rights granted by the passage of Prop 64.

The other cannabis-related businesses that have been approved, or have applied to operate, are not retail establishments. Customers cannot walk in the door and purchase cannabis products manufactured inside.

And, to this point, council members have voted only to consider adding more than one dispensary than previously planned. That doesn't mean they will.

But no matter what action they take, rest assured their decision will be of great interest to not only Nevada City residents, but throughout the region as Grass Valley and Nevada County are likely soon to follow in establishing their own ordinances. And no doubt there will be plenty to learn from those who were first to take the plunge.

The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.