Enjoy Some Weed with Your Wine in Napa Valley
Napa Valley is warming back up to the idea of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Published on June 3, 2016

No wine-growing region in North America is more prized than the Napa Valley, renowned for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and many other varietals. Unfortunately, for residents of Napa county, has been struggling with their position on setting up medical marijuana dispensaries. Back in 2010, the City Council had passed an ordinance with rules to lawfully instill dispensaries throughout wine country, but retracted it three years later amid fear of federal prosecution. But, after California recently passed a landmark bill to support the setup of a regulatory system for cannabis in October of last year, Napa has now decided to conjure up a new set of rules to allow for the sale of medicinal marijuana in their town.

With marijuana use set to become wholesomely decriminalized in California in the coming years, Community Development Director, Rick Tooker, called on the Napa Valley-based City Council to set up a proposal in preparation of new state regulations. Still, the council seems hesitant to welcome these establishments in their town. According to the Napa Valley Register, parts of the newly formed ordinance seem even stricter than the one drawn up back in 2010. For instance, Tooker suggested the new set of rules would not allow sellers to set up shop within commercial zones, and would restrict hours of operation from 10 AM to 7 PM, which some local advocates at a recent council meeting argued would be particularly inconvenient to those working people coming in from the outskirts of town.

There could also be other major limitations to the space these marijuana sellers can legally occupy, as a possible 1,000-foot minimum buffer from houses, schools, parks, and other dispensaries will be a part of the City Council’s ordinance as well. Still, it’s an improvement over the 2010 legislation, which initially proposed to open only one dispensary within the confines of Napa. “If we limit the number, the first one that gets to a complete application ends up being the only one,” Tooker reportedly told the council. “And we don’t know if that’s the one that will best serve the community.”

But the strict zoning laws will likely keep the city’s number of cannabis-related businesses in check, and one could imagine that a major obstacle is their high-class wine tourism market. But some residents, such as Alicia Rose, a local winery consultant and founder of the HerbaBuena dispensary in San Rafael, feel as is these two sticky substances could not only coexist, but complement one another. At the council meeting, Rose suggested that the City Council regulate in-store samplings inside of these dispensaries as well, allowing for practices similar to wine tasting.

“As someone who has conducted hundreds of wine tastings and dozens of cannabis tastings, I’ve seen firsthand the power of offering our people, especially our elders in the community, the chance to experience this medicine in a safe and guided setting,” Rose told the council.

Curious about gaining the perspective of someone involved in the local Napa scene for both wine and marijuana, I spoke to Rose about the City Council’s process, and why the process may be moving a bit slower in comparison to other California towns. The major obstacle that she seemed to hint at was tourism, which has made council members hesitant to open their doors to an influx of dispensaries and such.

“A big reason is not harming the tourism market. Here in Napa, the town does a very good job of appeasing both the visiting tourists and the local residents. They want to treat marijuana legislation very carefully, and understandably so,” Rose told me. “Although Napa is a well-known destination, in reality it’s a small town with relatively conservative values, which I think has a lot to do with it.”

According to Rose, fear of federal prosecution was a major influence in preventing the 2010 ordinance from taking effect, but as the state of California continues to progress forward, it seems that the quaint wine-producing town is just about prepared to get on board and welcome a dispensary among their prestigious vineyards.

“After California passed MRSA, the recent medical marijuana legislation that basically told the federal government to keep their hands off California’s marijuana industry, the discussion in Napa has suddenly come back to life, but we still have a long way to go,” she told me.

With California on the edge of setting up statewide marijuana regulation, cannabis businesses seem destined to set up shop in the Napa Valley, and even enhance their already prominent tourism industry. In fact, by accepting dispensaries and sellers among the lovely vineyards, both Napa residents and tourists may soon have access to this blended buzz, a collaborative high that is already known by many to go hand-in-hand with one another.  

Tyler Koslow
Tyler Koslow is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with an intensive focus on technology, music, pop culture, and of course, cannabis and its impending legalization.
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