Cannabis is Coming to Chico, is the Community Safe?


Erin Holve

A watercolor made by Erin Holve

The city of Chico has approved an ordinance for cannabis dispensaries with a 5-2 vote. The two dissenting votes came from Sean Morgan and Kasey Reynolds. 

Dozens of residents showed up to the Aug. 18 meeting to support and oppose dispensaries, 13 of which got the chance to speak to the council for three minutes. 

“Because where you have drugs and where you have a cash business, you have crime,” said Nichole Nava, a vocal community member against this ordinance, “and you are making it difficult for our Chico Police Department already to do their jobs.”

She further stated that Vice Mayor Brown has “worked for this harder than the drug pushers in the tenderloin of San Francisco,” commenting that Brown “spoke for a whole bunch of college students who have their brains still forming.”

She spoke with passion and anger about the harms this ordinance would cause for Chico, but I wondered if she was right. Would allowing dispensaries to open up in Chico increase crime and cause harm to the community?

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that the main reason people oppose the legalization of marijuana is that they feel it hurts society and is bad for individuals. 

About 19% of those against legalization say marijuana is illegal and needs to be policed, 11% say it is a gateway to harder drugs and 8% say it is especially harmful to young people.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver found an association between cannabis dispensaries and increases in rates of crime shortly after Colorado began legal retail sales.

With the exception of murder, data showed that the presence of at least one medical marijuana dispensary was associated with a statistically significant increase in neighborhood crime and disorder, including robbery and aggravated assault.

However, researchers noted that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time.

The study also observed that because it relied on official police data, it’s possible that police targeted neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries. This would cause an overestimation between the dispensaries and crime rates. 

Authors of the study concluded that, rather than fighting to oppose legalized marijuana, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry and is expected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020, it would be more helpful to the community at large to develop and support secure and legal ways for dispensaries to operate.

Furthermore, legalization brings some notable benefits. The state tax revenues get boosted, new jobs get created and law enforcement can focus their energy on more serious and heinous crimes. 

During this tumultuous time we need these benefits against the pandemic that is still raging through American society, leaving economic devastation and political division in its wake. 

Americans spent $12.4 billion on legal recreational and medical cannabis in 2019, according to ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics, a number that is expected to climb to $16.3 billion this year, a 31% increase.

California alone has taken in about $1 billion during the first two years of legalizing cannabis. 

Curaleaf Holdings Inc. Chairman Boris Jordan said federal legalization would increase jobs in the industry from about 250,000 today to 1 million overnight.

“Cannabis use already exists throughout California and definitely exists in Chico,” said Curtis Bartel, a supporter of the new ordinance. “Overall legalization pushes us toward providing safety for the consumer. That’s what rules and regulations and laws are supposed to do.”

After looking at all the data surrounding cannabis and dispensaries, I have to say the benefits seem to outweigh the concerns. This is coming from someone who used to be terrified of drugs as a kid. 

The CDC states that cannabis is the most commonly used drug in America with 37.6 million users in the past year. 

What’s important now is to take measures to regulate it and make it safe for the community at large. Take the money made from this new business and put it back into community growth projects. Lastly let’s throw away the old stigmas of cannabis that plenty of scientific data has disproven in today’s society. 

Erin Holve can be reached at [email protected] or @ErinHolve on Twitter.