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Napa Considering New Dispensary Ban

Napa appears likely to close its doors to medical marijuana dispensaries, but the city planning commission isn’t happy about it.

Commission members voted 3-2 Oct. 31 to recommend the Napa City Council not repeal the city’s three-year-old medical pot ordinance. The ordinance, passed unanimously in 2010, has allowed a single dispensary to operate in the city under stringent regulations.

weed-jarIf the council votes to undo the ordinance, no pot shops would be allowed anywhere in Napa. That would leave yet another municipality, one of hundreds, with no legitimate outlet for MMJ patients in need of their medicine.

The motivation for the likely repeal seems to be a panicked reading of federal law and intentions. Medical weed has been legal under California marijuana law since 1996 but remains illegal under federal law.

The Obama administration, in particular the DEA and various U.S. attorneys, have long targeted California and its often-chaotic MMJ scene with crackdowns. This has led some local leaders to fear they might get caught in the middle by facilitating an illegal activity.

But that’s extremely unlikely, if history and the statements of the Department of Justice are any guide. Federal prosecutors have yet to go after a single government official for enacting and enforcing state marijuana laws. And the DOJ announced in August it won’t interfere with states that legalize weed as long as they meet certain federal priorities such as keeping it away from kids and stemming drug violence.

Nonetheless, the city council voted 4-1 in August to start the repeal process, saying they want to avoid federal prosecution. Members asked the planning commission to make a recommendation on a final repeal vote.

The commission was split, but the majority said the city needs to stick to its principles.

Commission Gordon Huether said he wouldn’t back a repeal vote “in a million years.” The city, he said, needs to “show some backbone” and “do the right thing.”

“I don’t know why we’re here,” Huether said. “I think it’s foolish and shameful that we’re even talking about repealing it. . . . The feds are not going to come after us, and if they did, why don’t we deal with it then? We’ll repeal it then.”

The City of Napa spent about $100,000 developing the MMJ ordinance. Deputy City Attorney Peter Spore told commissioners the city could be sued over it, like Long Beach was. That case led Long Beach officials to ban dispensaries outright until this fall.

Commissioner Tom Trzesniewski, who voted in favor of repeal, said the city’s legal exposure is more important than patient needs.

“Our city attorney asked us to repeal this ordinance,” Trzesniewski said. “We’re not here to be compassionate; we’re here to protect the city.”

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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