Huron could be the second city in Fresno County to allow medical marijuana cultivation, manufacture and distribution, city documents show. Meanwhile, growers already are lining up to court neighboring Coalinga, which approved medical cannabis in July.
But other cities in conservative Fresno County, which has opposed all marijuana use for decades, remain in opposition to medical cannabis. Some have even passed resolutions formally opposing California Proposition 64, the state initiative in the upcoming election that would legalize adult recreational marijuana use. The initiative is likely to pass, but most of the county appears ready to forgo millions in potential marijuana revenue due to public safety concerns.
Huron introduced the first version of an ordinance that would allow “marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation and distribution” on Wednesday at its City Council meeting. City Manager Jack Castro said the council opted not to approve the ordinance, however, as more feedback from the community is needed.
In Coalinga, just 20 miles west of Huron, medical marijuana is quickly becoming a major industry. Ocean Grown Extracts finalized a deal last month to pay the city $4.1 million for its vacant prison, the Claremont Custody Center. The company plans to turn Claremont into a medical cannabis oil manufacturing operation.
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Ocean Grown co-owner Casey Dalton is negotiating with the city to purchase several more plots at the Juniper Ridge Industrial Park. And she isn’t the only one.
The Coalinga City Council approved medical marijuana dispensaries in January, but immediately walked back those plans after intense public scrutiny. The issue will now head to the ballot.
Structured Hydro Enterprises of California is looking to purchase five plots in the same industrial park. CEO Tony Circelli said his company would create a completely indoor hydroponic medical cannabis cultivation on the property.
“We’ve been in discussions with municipalities across the state,” Circelli said. “We thought the (Coalinga) council, though they sometimes disagreed, was ultimately very rational and logical with its discussion and approach on how to bring this (medical marijuana cultivations) into their town.
“Over time, Coalinga started to grow on us,” he added.
Circelli declined to get into financial specifics, as the negotiations with Coalinga are still ongoing.
Coalinga also is introducing a local ballot initiative to approve medical marijuana dispensaries. Staffers are working on drafting potential regulations should that initiative pass.
These steps may seem unnecessary given the possibility of legalization, but that might not be true.
Lori Ajax, head of the newly formed California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, told The Bee this month that state law requires all dispensaries to have both state and local licenses. Proposition 64 would legalize recreational use for adults over 21, but Ajax noted that the state doesn’t have a precise plan for regulations should it pass. It’s likely that dual-licensing would still be required.
The federal government remains one of the major clouds looming over medical marijuana and the prospect of legalization. In July, the Drug Enforcement Administration reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I narcotic – the same designation given to heroin and cocaine.
$1,000 per plantThe fine in Fresno County for anyone caught cultivating marijuana in unincorporated areas.
This classification has been a major talking point for local marijuana opponents, especially Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. Law enforcement, school districts, parks and recreation departments and many faith-based communities have emerged as major opponents of both medical marijuana cultivation and Proposition 64.
To that end, the cities of Selma and Kingsburg recently adopted resolutions opposing it. Interestingly, Coalinga police Chief Michael Salvador submitted a similar resolution to his council. It was not voted on.
Selma City Manager/Chief of Police Greg Garner also took another, purely pragmatic step. The city has established a fee structure for medical marijuana cultivation permits. New permit applications would cost $1,420 – perhaps a nod to 420, a number that users say represents both the best time of the day to get high or the date (April 20) of an unofficial holiday in cannabis culture. Permit renewals would be $220.
Garner said the city remains opposed to marijuana in all its forms, but preparing the fees now would make it much easier for the city to revisit its current position should Proposition 64 pass.
“We hope to never use them,” Garner said of the fees.
In Fresno, city spokesman Mark Standriff said city staff has not been directed to make or plan for any changes to its medical marijuana ordinances. Growing operations and dispensaries remain illegal.
Other cities across the county may be talking about medical marijuana behind closed doors, but it does not appear to have been discussed at any public meetings. In January, after Coalinga made its first move, all other cities in Fresno County passed ordinances opposing cultivation and dispensaries.