Fresno greenlights medical cannabis dispensaries

The city of Fresno is open for cannabis business — as long as it’s medicinal.

The City Council on Thursday approved cannabis business regulations that may eventually allow for up to two medicinal dispensaries in each council district and establish “hubs” along Highway 99 and Highway 180 for commercial activities such as cultivation, manufacturing and distribution.

Councilmen Steve Brandau and Garry Bredefeld voted against the regulations.

Councilman Clint Olivier championed the issue and worked with councilmen Oliver Baines and Paul Caprioglio. The vote came after months of debate and community meetings.

“It’s important to show Fresno residents that their city officials aren’t burying their heads in the sand and pretending there isn’t an issue,” Olivier said.

After California regulators earlier this month voted on new regulations allowing delivery services to operate statewide, Olivier said the next council will have to address adult use businesses in Fresno.

By setting a low tax rate, the city can use the money to fund essential services without “getting greedy,” he said. The lower tax rate also will allow the new-to-Fresno industry to grow.

The regulations were passed after voters in November overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to tax cannabis businesses. Earlier this month, the council voted to set the tax rate for cannabis businesses at 4 percent for retail businesses and manufacturing.

City leaders estimate the new industry, through tax revenue, could generate up to $10 million annually for the city.

It won’t be easy to open a cannabis business in Fresno. The regulations are 53 pages long and include dozens of requirements on things such as signage, operation hours, security measures, locations, accounting and more. The city manager will vet applications, which must include a social equity element that could affect the application’s score.

People prohibited from operating a cannabis business include felons convicted of a certain crimes, people with convictions related to controlled substances other than cannabis, and people who previously had a cannabis license suspended.

While city staff and consultants drafted the regulations, community members called for equity in all cannabis policies.

Since Measure A passed, 10 percent of cannabis revenue will go toward a community benefit fund, with the money allocated by a commission appointed by council members.

Gidai Maaza, cofounder of The People’s Dispensary Fresno, said Fresno’s new regulations are a start toward equity for all Fresnans, but more work remains.

He hopes the city will provide a pathway into the industry for people of color — and that money from the community benefit fund will be allocated to programs supporting people of color outside the cannabis industry.

“Our consistent concern and advocacy is ensuring equity from top to bottom,” he said.

From the beginning, Maaza and his cofounder Cesar Casamayor said they’re willing to work with council members on the equity piece. That remains the same today, he said.

When the draft regulations were introduced earlier this month, both Bredefeld and Brandau expressed displeasure, saying they felt misled and did not support the number of dispensaries the regulations proposed.

During the Dec. 6 meeting, the council introduced regulations both for medicinal businesses and adult use.

“Has there been a shift here? Has this become recreational?” Brandau asked.

Councilman Luis Chavez asked the council to approve businesses in phases, first allowing medicinal dispensaries and returning later to make a decision on recreational.

Olivier told Brandau he was willing to compromise and only approve medicinal regulations.

During Thursday’s meeting, Bredefeld made a motion to limit the number of dispensaries in his district.

Caprioglio asked Bredefeld if he’d also agree to exclude District 6 from the financial benefits of cannabis business as well. Bredefeld’s motion failed.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix
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