Napa Votes 3-2 to Repeal Medical Pot Ordinance

Council members in favor of the repeal said the dispensary would increase access to marijuana for youth.

After a three-hour debate, including speeches from more than two dozen citizen commenters, Napa City Council voted 3 to 2 in favor of repealing its three-year-old medical marijuana ordinance.

Click here to see a video from the meeting.

As they did in August, Mayor Jill Techel and City Councilmembers Juliana Inman and Alfredo Pedroza voted in favor of the repeal.

Techel said she would have no problem granting medical marijuana to the seriously ill in Napa who could get pain and symptom relief. A total of 271 people have medical marijuana cards in Napa, according to testimony Tuesday.

"It's the 90 percent (who have cards but who are not ill) that concerns me," Techel said.

Voting against the repeal and to move forward to implement the ordinance were  City Councilmen Peter Mott and Scott Sedgley. Sedgley said he was changing his position from his vote in August in favor of the repeal because of new research he has done in the intervening months, he said.

The ordinance, which has never been implemented, would have permitted one city-regulated medical marijuana dispensary in Napa.

At least a half-dozen prominent Napa County educators -- including Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko --  testified Tuesday in favor of repealing the ordinance, saying that area youth didn't need anything else -- including a medical pot dispensary -- to make access easier.

Law enforcement was also heavily represented in Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, Napa Police Chief Rich Melton and Napa Special Investigations Bureau Lt. Gary Pitkin.

Pitkin said 73 percent of marijuana cases his unit investigates involves people who are illegally using pot "under the auspices of the Compassionate Care Act," he said. The other 27 percent are legitimate medical pot users.

Speaking in favor of keeping and implementing the ordinance were Bill Iverson, head of Harmony Health and Wellness, the preferred conditional applicant to run the dispensary, and Spencer Smith of the Napa County Green Party.

"As a political party founded on the values of social justice, we believe patients have a right to safe access of medical marijuana and that this right should not be overridden by federal law," Smith said in reading from a prepared statement.

Tuesday's vote was the second time City County polled itself on the issue. In August, they voted 4 to 1 to direct the Planning Commission to begin the repeal process. At the time, Sedgley said he agreed with the majority that he didn't want to place the city at risk of violating federal law.

However, a short time after that, U.S. Attorney General James Cole issued a memo, that, in effect, said that states and local governments should handle their own regulation of medical marijuana and that the federal government was not looking to prosecute cities or counties on that issue.

Napa City staff, in recommending in favor of the repeal, said the "Cole memo" didn't really change any federal law that prohibited marijuana use -- but other speakers disagreed, saying it showed some general relaxation on the part of the federal government around the issue.

On Oct. 31, the Napa Planning Commission, in reviewing the repeal ordinance, voted 3 to 2 to recommend against the repeal, sending the matter back to the City Council for possible reconsideration.

Napa initially passed the ordinance in 2010, but didn't act on it due to pending legal problems that arose as other cities and counties grappled with the issue. Instead, the city placed a moratorium on medical pot dispensaries until the legal issues could be clarified.

As the moratorium was due to expire this year, staff asked the City Council to decide whether to repeal the ordinance, to move forward with it, or to come up with another solution, such as a de-criminalized zone for dispensaries. That led to the first vote in August to repeal the ordinance.


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