The Hanford City Council decided Tuesday that it doesn’t want recreational marijuana cultivation and dispensaries in town if a statewide ballot measure legalizing pot passes in November. But it’s not quite ready to turn its back on industrial-scale marijuana cultivation at a former tire plant at the city’s south end.
The council directed staff to gather more information on medical marijuana cultivation, given a massive offer from a Bay Area investor looking to move into the city’s industrial park.
A standing-room-only crowd showed up Tuesday night as the Hanford City Council weighed whether to oppose California Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use, and oppose recreational use in Hanford should the ballot measure pass. It unanimously voted to oppose both.
But the issue on the minds of most people was medical marijuana cultivation. Last month, the city received an offer from a Bay Area cannabis company promising the city $14 million per year if it passes ordinances allowing for pot farming in city limits.
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Keith Stephenson, owner of Bay Area medical cannabis distributor Purple Heart Patient Care, is currently in escrow on an industrial park – formerly a Pirelli tire plant – on the south side of town. He is looking to turn the 1-million-square-foot facility into some sort of medical marijuana operation. He said this would be one of the largest such facilities in California – if not the largest.
Stephenson has promised the city that it would make $14 million annually from the operation, which would produce approximately 180,000 pounds of marijuana per year. It would also hire around 1,100 employees, who would be paid $15 per hour on the low end and six-figure salaries at the top.
We could use that kind of money, but do we really want to put ourselves in jeopardy?
Bob Ramos of Hanford
The deal must be done quickly. Hanford Mayor Justin Mendes said the offer may expire if significant progress toward ordinances legalizing medical marijuana cultivation isn’t made before the end of October.
Stephenson was at the meeting. At one point, he attempted to address the council, but Mendes motioned him away from the podium.
“I was misquoted on a few things,” Stephenson said, referring to Councilman Gary Pannett saying his operation would be an outdoor grow that doesn’t use greenhouses. Stephenson said he does plan to use greenhouses.
Stephenson said he was not sure what to make of the meeting, but was glad the council appears to be moving forward. He reiterated that the end-of-October deadline does stand, but he may be flexible if significant progress is made toward changing city rules.
“This is a unique opportunity,” Stephenson said. “It’s a large facility, already in an industrial zone and inactive for some time. And this citizenry knows agriculture.”
Stephenson said Hanford has the workforce he is looking for – farmworkers as well as graduates in agricultural sciences from nearby West Hills Community College. It also has the infrastructure – things like soil, indoor lighting and farm equipment companies, which he added have already been in contact with him about working in partnership.
This is a unique opportunity. It’s a large facility, already in an industrial zone and inactive for some time. And this citizenry knows agriculture.
Keith Stephenson, who has proposed using the former tire plant for industrialized marijuana production
The audience appeared to be split on whether to allow medical cannabis cultivation at the former tire plant.
Bob Ramos of Hanford told the council to proceed cautiously and patiently.
“We could use that kind of money, but do we really want to put ourselves in jeopardy?” he said.
Ramos said a deal like this would likely keep until next year or the following, so he asked the council to take its time discussing ordinances.
Michael Lamb, a retired Marine and current substitute teacher in Hanford, agreed with Ramos. He also believes that legalization would not curb drug-related crime.
“I spent 27 years in the Marine Corps. I don’t need some fool walking around trying to shoot someone over cultivating marijuana,” Lamb said.
Michael Lopez, who said he represented a group of local sheet metal workers, was in favor of the deal. He focused on the economic benefits it would provide, such as jobs and tax revenue.
“The tax revenue itself would surely rebuild the roads around here,” Lopez said.
The council also appeared split.
Hanford Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez told the audience he had been researching medical cannabis for several weeks, and he believes it has legitimate medical uses.
“My mom passed away from cancer,” he said. “If I would have known then what I do now, I would have let her use cannabis – rather than the drug coma she was in.”
Councilman Russ Curry stood on the opposite end, making it clear he opposed marijuana in all forms within the city limits. The other three councilmen appeared to be in the middle, although all five agreed that the city should not allow marijuana dispensaries of any kind.
Hanford police Chief Parker Sever stressed to the council that it was important to gather information on medical marijuana from states like Colorado and Oregon that have legalized it. He also stressed that his department of 57 officers would definitely have to grow if the council voted to allow commercialization.
The next step will be for Sever and other city staff to travel to those areas already deep in the marijuana industry. This will take some time, Mendes said, but he stressed the importance of patient and thorough research – even if that delay causes Stephenson to pull out of town.
“We just can’t jump in to something like this,” Mendes said.