‘Beware of political grandstanders.’ Councilmembers clash over Fresno cannabis policy

Fresno City Council puts cannabis business tax measure on ballot

The Fresno City Council voted Thursday, June 14, 2018 to put a cannabis business tax license measure on the November ballot.
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The Fresno City Council voted Thursday, June 14, 2018 to put a cannabis business tax license measure on the November ballot.

Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, a longtime cannabis advocate on the council, warned people attending a public forum earlier this week not to believe everything they may hear about the city’s draft cannabis regulations.

Olivier was responding to radio and television interviews Councilman Steve Brandau gave earlier that day. Brandau said in the interviews he was surprised by the draft cannabis regulations released last week, and that he doesn’t believe they reflect the original intent of the City Council.

But Olivier said Brandau is missing the point on the cannabis issue.

“Councilmember Brandau is caught up in the moral argument over cannabis, and he can’t let go,” Olivier said. “As a state, as a community, and soon as a nation, we will have moved beyond the moral argument and will focus solely on implementing good public policy. Councilmember Brandau does not understand cannabis policy on a state or local level. He is out of his depth, and it shows.”

Olivier’s remarks came Monday during a public forum Q&A session hosted by the council’s cannabis subcommittee, which includes Olivier, District 3 Councilman Oliver Baines and District 4 Councilman Paul Caprioglio. The councilmen and city attorney fielded questions from the public for about an hour and a half on the draft regulations.

In an interview with The Bee on Tuesday, Brandau said he was referencing the council’s December 2017 vote to rewrite the city’s ordinance to ban commercial marijuana operations. After that meeting, he was open to a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the city.

“Now we have a plan in front of us that’s something dramatically different,” he said.

But Olivier said the policy direction has been public.

“I’m looking on the news and hearing on the radio that, oh, this is a great big surprise,” he said. “In reality, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Beware of political grandstanders trying to score points off what is a very important public policy decision here for all of us in the city of Fresno.”

In June, Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan gave a workshop presentation on the draft regulations. At that time, the city attorney said the draft regulations would allow one medicinal dispensary in each council district, and the council could revisit that number down the road. The city attorney during the workshop also said the city was considering allowing four business hubs for cultivation, distribution and manufacturing.

Brandau requested the workshop.

The same day, Brandau was the lone “no” vote on putting a cannabis business license tax measure on the November ballot.

“I should probably review the June workshop and June meeting,” Brandau said Tuesday. “Really, now the recommendations are final. They’re glaringly different than what we talked about last December.”

Brandau said this week the draft regulations allow for 21 medicinal dispensaries in the city. “I would say because of the state and feds we should enter into dealing with cannabis very methodically and very slowly,” he said. “I would like to see what it’s like to allow seven dispensaries in the city of Fresno and then watch what the market determines.”

The draft regulations released last week allow for seven licensed medical dispensaries the first year, seven more after nine months and then another seven in the third year, with city manager approval.

Brandau didn’t say whether he believes that’s too many dispensaries for a city with more than 500,000. “I’m not an expert on that,” he said. “I don’t want to ever say I know however many is too many.”

The city intends to use public comment to tweak the regulations before they go to a council vote later this year.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix