Marijuana could remain a clandestine and illegal industry in the largest city in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The Fresno City Council will vote Thursday on whether to ban all marijuana cultivation – including medical and personal use – within city limits. The council will also decide whether to direct staff to draft bans on cannabis dispensaries, sales and public consumption that would be voted on in the next month or two.
The cultivation ban would be among the strongest anti-pot ordinances in California, a state that approved recreational weed by a wide margin in November. But the city may not even enforce portions of its own ban. The ordinance would prohibit anyone from growing pot in any way, but it notes the city will not enforce the ban on anyone growing six plants inside private residences – a practice legalized by Proposition 64 last year.
Anyone found out of compliance with the new ordinance could be fined $1,000 per plant and have their plants seized. Each day a person does not comply with this ordinance will be treated as a separate violation. But the rules also note that growers may only be fined $100 per plant after the first violation. It’s unclear from the ordinance language whether a first-time violator would be charged $100 or $1,000 on the second day of violation.
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Anyone found out of compliance with the new ordinance could be fined $1,000 per plant and have their plants seized.
The new ordinance and the resolution were proposed by Councilman Garry Bredefeld and co-sponsored by Fresno Mayor Lee Brand. Bredefeld has been an outspoken opponent of marijuana since Proposition 64 passed, penning an op-ed citing dangers to children and the risks of impaired driving as his primary reasons. Brand, who Bredefeld succeeded on the council in November, had authored a resolution in opposition to the ballot initiative while still on the council.
A new resolution would ask staff to create an amendment to the Fresno Zoning Ordinance “addressing recreational marijuana operations, dispensaries, sales and public consumption by prohibiting them in all zone districts within the city.” It does not include medical marijuana dispensaries and businesses, which have already been banned through previous ordinances.
Proposition 64 gives cities until Jan. 1 to ban recreational pot operations. If they do not, the state takes over as the jurisdiction’s sole regulator of recreational marijuana.
Council president Clint Olivier said he expects the City Council to continue Fresno’s history of marijuana rejection, but he plans to oppose the items.
“I think that the city of Fresno needs to be more creative in its approach to cannabis,” Olivier said Monday. “The reality is that it’s illegal now to have a dispensary. But we have about two dozen retail storefronts and three or four dozen delivery services operating in this city.”
He continued: “We could shut them all down tomorrow, but they would spring up in different locations.”
Olivier is right. According to Weed Maps, there are at least 40 delivery services and eight storefronts operating within the city. While dispensaries are illegal, city staff has stressed that deliveries are allowed. Some of these delivery services are quicker and less cumbersome than ordering a pizza.
The councilman said the ban would make some people feel good, but it’s not enforceable. And he’s not interested in adding any more unenforceable ordinances to the city’s books.
The people of this city voted to pass Proposition 64. If we could find some solution that allows dispensaries and deliveries, the city could find itself on a windfall of tax dollars.
Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier
“The people of this city voted to pass Proposition 64,” he said. “If we could find some solution that allows dispensaries and deliveries, the city could find itself on a windfall of tax dollars.”
Olivier said the city, which is currently planning next year’s budget, is still struggling to meet obligations and provide a decent level of public services. Employees want raises. Departments want more money. And the city needs more cash to meet those demands.
He expects the council to pass the ban 6-1. Five other city council members did not respond to a request from The Bee for comment.
“Politicians, even here in the city, are afraid of the stigma – afraid of the political ramifications of not supporting a ban,” Olivier said.
If the council voted according to how the city’s residents weighed in on recreational pot in November, the ban would easily fail.
In November, 51.4 percent of Fresno residents voted in favor of Proposition 64. The difference was about 4,000 votes.
Only Bredefeld’s and Councilman Steve Brandau’s council districts voted against legalization. About 28,000 people in those two north Fresno districts were in favor of Proposition 64. About 34,000 were not.
But there are other factors to consider.
51.4The percentage of Fresno voters who approved Proposition 64.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer and Brand are in favor of the ban. Both cited “inconclusive” city research and personal opposition to recreational marijuana. Dyer contacted Denver police Chief Robert White, who told him pot dispensaries are often burglary or robbery targets. Dyer said marijuana use among middle school students has also increased in Denver, where cannabis was legalized in 2012.
Oliver Baines, who in May expressed some opposition to the ban and whose district favored Proposition 64 by a wide margin, is a former police officer. He often sides with Dyer on issues concerning public safety.
However, should the council decide to embrace marijuana, the city is prepared to profit. Brand estimated Fresno could make $10 million a year from taxes on pot sales, which he’d like to use to beef up Dyer’s police force. Dyer said his department would pay special attention to marijuana businesses, similar to how it polices Club One Casino in downtown Fresno.
The state expects legal marijuana to be a massive cash crop. The Los Angeles Times reported that an upcoming study from the University of California Agricultural Issues Center predicts legal cannabis will be a $5 billion industry.
The research notes that annual medical marijuana sales are around $2 billion, while illegal sales accounted for about $5.7 billion. The state predicts that about 29 percent of pot users will stick to the illegal market, while medical sales will shrink to $600 million.
But the millions promised may not seem as attractive to Fresno in June as it did in November. The city has enjoyed a strong few months of attracting businesses. Ulta Beauty will open a new distribution center next summer that could employ more than 1,000 people. Amazon could hire more than 2,500 for its new warehouse.
If the council rejects the ban, the city has until Jan. 1 to pass an ordinance to restrict commercial cultivation. After that, cultivators may be able to move in with proper state clearance.
If the resolution to ban dispensaries and public consumption passes, there would be a hearing through the city’s planning commission before a new ordinance would be presented for another vote.
Should the resolution die, the city again has until Jan. 1 to put some sort of restraint in place on recreational dispensaries.
IF YOU GO:
Fresno City Council meets Thursday, June 22
▪ Where: Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St.
▪ When: Meeting begins at 8:30 a.m., marijuana hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m.
How Fresno voted on pot
Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana use, won approval from a majority of Fresno voters.
Source: Fresno County Registrar of Voters