City officials, smoke shops await Prop. 19 vote

For Napa Valley business owners, dreams of selling legal marijuana are still hazy.

While Californians prepare to vote Tuesday on Proposition 19, which would legalize the use of recreational marijuana, other Bay Area cities are abuzz with the possibilities of Amsterdam-style cafes that sell joints beside java.

Not so in the valley. Liquor store owners are wary that the federal government could revoke their liquor licenses. Smoke shop owners are waiting to hear what the city of Napa has to say about the matter before they even begin to envision cannabis farms adjoining their stores.

For now, the law is too contradictory and unclear, business owners said.

As long as the federal government and the city prohibit the sale of recreational pot, it seems the medical dispensary opening next year will be Napa’s sole source of legal ganja.

Already, the city has received six applications for the dispensary, according to City Manager Mike Parness. City staff will pick one winner by early next year.

But medical and recreational marijuana are entirely different issues, Parness said.

“We haven’t even spoken about (recreational marijuana),” he said. “I haven’t gotten into the details of what we as a city would do in the next steps” to approve or prohibit pot sales.

Mayor Jill Techel disapproves of Proposition 19 outright. The state proposition has many of the same flaws that Napa’s medical marijuana dispensary ordinance had before it was tightened, she said. They were both too vague, she said.

“When it’s ambiguous, it just makes it difficult” for police to enforce, Techel said.

What’s more, Proposition 19 might not pass at the state level. Voters oppose the proposition 49 to 44 percent, a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found.

While the city awaits the results of Tuesday’s elections, many smoke shop and liquor store owners said they’re closely following the progress of Proposition 19.

But the majority of business owners said they wouldn’t sell marijuana for one reason or another.

“I wouldn’t sell (marijuana); I’m a Muslim,” said Abe Rateb, manager of Doc of Rock in Napa.

Not that his store couldn’t use the extra income. In the past year, two new smoke shops have opened within miles of his store: Starbuzz and The Mighty Quinn, both on Soscol Avenue.

To make matters worse, the sluggish economy has made his customers thriftier.

“My pipe people are paper people now,” Rateb said.

Though he won’t personally sell marijuana, “it doesn’t bother me if they legalize it or not,” he said. He also has no qualms about selling glass pipes in his store. “These are for tobacco. What you put in it is your business.”

A short distance away at Val’s Liquor on Third Street, Steve Rodrigues, the owner, said he’s keeping religion out of it. It’s the federal government that gives him pause.

“I would not sell anything that is federally illegal in my store — ever,” Rodrigues said. “If it did pass federally, it would be a huge income boost for a store like mine. I’m not a drug dealer, never have been, but if something becomes legal and there is a huge market behind it, I’ll sell it.”

Upvalley, at St. Helena Wine Center, a baggie of “Acapulco Gold” simply wouldn’t pair well with a 2001 Silver Oak Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon, co-owner Judi Jimenez said.

“It just wouldn’t work for our clientele,” she said. “We only sell a selected amount of cigars.”


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