The Coalinga City Council voted unanimously to allow a medical marijuana dispensary as well as commercial cultivation and delivery services within city limits – becoming the first city in Fresno County and one of the first in the central San Joaquin Valley to embrace a new state law regulating pot.
Most Valley cities and counties are not following suit – instead opting to keep current ordinances that ban dispensaries and commercial cultivation or to tighten the regulations further. These decisions frustrate medical marijuana advocates, who say the local governments are missing out on a valuable revenue stream and violating the spirit of the law.
The California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act went into effect Jan. 1. It lays much of the groundwork required for state regulation of the medical marijuana industry and commercial cultivation of pot. Growers and distributors will be required to register with both state and local agencies, and local governments are allowed to tax all operations.
The law also gives city and county governments the option to essentially opt out of the industry, provided they pass statutes explicitly banning cultivation, distribution, delivery or anything else outlined in the act they do not want to participate in.
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Coalinga ‘goes green’
Coalinga City Councilman Nathan Vosburg said Thursday night’s decision to “go green” and allow cultivation and dispensaries was primarily a financial one.
“We have a large patient need, and those people are currently spending their money elsewhere,” he said. “We can’t stop these people from doing this. Now, we will create a revenue stream that we can control.”
Vosburg said many Coalinga residents travel to unincorporated Goshen in Tulare County – one of the few places in the Valley where dispensaries are allowed. Vosburg hopes to keep that revenue in Coalinga, as well as attract more patients from throughout the county.
The Coalinga city attorney, city staff and police chief will work together to establish regulations for a dispensary, cultivation operations and delivery services by March 1, the deadline for local governments to enact rules governing marijuana. After that, it’s up to a new agency within the state Department of Food and Agriculture, the Medical Cannabis Cultivation Program, to decide what is allowed.
“Not controlling it (the medical marijuana industry) just creates a black market,” Vosburg said. “We’re trying to move that black market to the forefront.”
Fresno County holds firm
Many leaders in the central San Joaquin Valley do not agree with Coalinga’s decision.
Dan Cederborg, counsel for Fresno County, said the Board of Supervisors has been steadfast in its opposition to marijuana: “We will be making some minor tweaks to our ordinances, but it probably won’t be anything major.”
$1,000 per plantThe fine Fresno County levies against those found growing marijuana within its borders; some of these fines have been thrown out in subsequent court cases, but some have been allowed
Fresno County first passed its ordinances banning cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana in 2013. It has since been involved in a number of legal battles with people who have been fined for growing marijuana in the county.
The new act outlines ways in which county governments can tax marijuana cultivation, distribution and delivery through online sources. However, Cederborg dismissed this notion entirely. He said that no government would actually be able to collect any of this money from what is predominantly a cash industry.
Most Valley governments follow a similar path.
In the city of Fresno, for instance, spokesman Mark Standriff said citywide bans on cultivation and dispensaries will continue. He added that no one has expressed an interest in banning the delivery of medical marijuana.
Lemoore had previously allowed both personal use and cooperative cultivation.
David Wolfe, city attorney for Fowler and Clovis, said both cities allow for personal-use cultivation, provided it is done indoors where no one can see or smell it and with the proper documentation from a physician. Patients also need a prescription and a permit through the cities. Commercial cultivation, distribution and deliveries are prohibited.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said the city will maintain its ban on commercial cultivation and dispensaries. Also, she said, the Reedley City Council is expected to consider this month a new ordinance banning deliveries.
Lemoore tightens bans
The Lemoore City Council this week opted to tighten its bans. In a 4-1 vote at the Tuesday meeting, the council voted to ban all medical marijuana cultivation, dispensaries and deliveries – including personal-use cultivation, which was allowed under former ordinances.
A spokeswoman for Tulare County said county supervisors are “reviewing the subject.”
And Monday night, the Merced City Council voted to tighten its medical marijuana rules: Cardholders will not be allowed to grow cannabis for their own consumption.
‘Fresno is shooting itself in the foot’
Michael Green, president of the Fresno Cannabis Association, is trying to change the minds of local government leaders. He recently spoke in support of cultivation and distribution at the Clovis City Council meeting and has sued Fresno County over its marijuana ordinances.
He said many California communities are tightening restrictions, but “the ‘ban first, ask questions second’ approach got its wildest application in Fresno. A lot of cities who haven’t prohibited it enough to their liking are now locking it down.”
The ‘ban first, ask questions second’ approach got its wildest application in Fresno.
Michael Green, president of the Fresno Cannabis Association
Green said that more than 60 new bans have been passed in California since the beginning of December.
He says those bans violate the spirit of the new law: State legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown “said, ‘We’re going to give you local control, but we expect you to do something positive with it.’ Unfortunately, we passed a state law that gives cities carte blanche to be as intolerant as Fresno is.”
Green believes the county is making a costly mistake.
“On the commercial side, Fresno is continuing to shoot itself in the foot,” he said, pointing out that the Valley is the nation’s farm leader “and state law says marijuana is an ag crop.”
At some point, Green said, Fresno’s farming community will realize the financial benefits of commercial cultivation.
“Even if you don’t believe that there’s one medical marijuana patient in Fresno, you should understand that the new state law is creating an incredible economic opportunity.”