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Medical pot advocates attack Napa city proposal

The Napa City Council’s plan for medical marijuana dispensaries was attacked by some cannabis advocates Tuesday night as too conservative, provoking an angry response from Councilwoman Juliana Inman.

Advocates, including many who plan to compete for a city permit, criticized a proposal that would allow only one dispensary the first year, cap the number of patients at about 7,500 and tightly restrict the amount grown in homes. The city doesn’t limit the number of pharmacies or other businesses or tell medical doctors how many patients they can treat, the advocates said.

A Ukiah attorney warned that limiting pot dispensaries to just one ran counter to a recent legal decision, putting the city on shaky legal ground.

After listening to an hour of public comment, Inman said she was “a little taken aback by the ferocity of the opposition.”

Napa needs to proceed cautiously, Inman said. “I believe we should start with one applicant who has been carefully vetted.”

Inman defended the patient limit of 7,500, saying she didn’t want to see Napa become a medical marijuana Mecca for people from around the Bay Area.

As for the threat that allowing only one dispensary might provoke a legal challenge, Inman struck a defiant note. “If one is not enough, let’s have zero,” she said. “People should be careful about asking for the moon.”

After hearing comments from 16 people, the majority of whom applauded the council’s direction, the council unanimously supported most of staff’s proposed regulations for the city’s experiment with medical cannabis dispensaries.

Council members said they are responding to the needs of residents who say that marijuana helps them cope with a host of medical conditions.

State voters approved an initiative in 1996 that allows cities to authorize medical marijuana dispensaries. The federal government considers marijuana an illegal drug, but is deferring to states that allow exemptions.

The council said last summer that it wanted to make it possible for a medical marijuana dispensary to open in Napa. This new direction has been strongly supported by people who are attending the hearings. Only a few people have spoken out against dispensaries.

Staff will take Tuesday’s council comments, tweak the draft ordinance, then send it to the Planning Commission for a public hearing this spring. After the council gives its OK, the city will seek dispensary applications.

Council members said that capping the first dispensary’s membership to 10 percent of the city’s population was a way of making sure it didn’t become a regional draw.

No other city in the Napa Valley allows marijuana dispensaries, nor do many nearby cities.

Several council members said they would like to restrict the customers base to city residents, but staff said this was not legally possible. The city will consider allowing a second dispensary after a year.

Dispensaries will be restricted to commercial and office zones. A large-scale marijuana growing facility in support of the dispensary will be restricted to a light industrial zone.

Councilman Mark van Gorder and Inman said they agreed with people who said it would be more efficient and more secure if the grow facility and the dispensary were together in an industrial area.

The Planning Commission will be able to weigh in on zoning restrictions, as well as a staff recommendation that the dispensary be at least 1,000 feet from parks and schools.

Mayor Jill Techel said the dispensary belonged in a medical office zone with other doctors’ offices. If marijuana is a medicine, then dispensaries should be zoned that way, she said.

The council liked limiting the growing space in private homes to 25 square feet, with exemptions to 50 square feet in special cases. The city does not want homes to be taken over as grow houses.