An inside look at a marijuana growing operation
The Hanford City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the commercial cultivation of marijuana, becoming the first major population hub in the central San Joaquin Valley to embrace cannabis after California voters approved its legalization in November.
Kings County’s largest city bucks a trend set in California’s center, as most of the conservative-leaning local governments have remained leery of pot. Proposition 64 allows anyone over 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.
Most Valley cities only allow what the state law requires them to allow: The personal-use cultivation of up to six cannabis plants inside a private residence. Commercial cultivation, dispensaries and delivery services are typically prohibited in the region.
It’s becoming clear that any Valley resident looking to legally buy pot on Jan. 1 will have to leave the region to do so. The common response from city officials is that anyone who wants marijuana can just grow it themselves, but anyone not seeking to try their hand at amateur botany or looking for any of the various non-smokeable cannabis products will probably have to drive to the Bay Area or Southern California.
Coalinga, the small Fresno County town that embraced marijuana more than a year ago, may be the first to open a recreational dispensary. Its voters approved one in November, but city officials say it won’t be ready by Jan. 1.
However, a few larger cities may get into the mix before too long. Here’s a rundown of where the Valley’s 10 largest cities sit with regard to marijuana.
City Manager Darrel Pyle said residents will vote in 2018 on whether to tax the new cultivation operations. If the initiative is approved, he believes revenues “could easily exceed $5 million per year.” The money would come from charging companies application and permit fees, as well as for city staff to inspect and regulate the businesses. The initiative may also impose a marijuana property tax – $25 per square foot up to the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square foot after – on any cannabis businesses.
The move comes nearly a year after a massive project proposed by a medical marijuana distributor promised Hanford – a city with an annual general fund of about $24 million – around $14 million in annual revenue should the city approve cultivation. The Bay Area company has since backed out of its escrow on a 1 million-square-foot industrial plant within the city.
Pyle said the city currently has no property available for sale, so all real estate deals involving cultivators will be done privately. The new ordinance limits cultivation to industrial zones within the city. The Kings County Economic Development Corporation lists a few such vacant industrial plots on its website but did not respond to The Bee’s request for comment.
The development of this new ordinance was funded by two cannabis companies: Sacramento’s The Genezen Project and San Jose’s Caliva. It didn’t come cheap, as The Hanford Sentinel reported Genezen paid the city $50,000. Genezen is apparently looking to buy a group of Hanford warehouses totaling 1.6 million square feet.
Genezen also lobbied nearby Corcoran to consider pot, which the council voted to do last month.
Pyle said dispensaries remain illegal in Hanford.
The Fresno City Council voted 4-3 to move forward with recreational marijuana bans on June 22.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld said recently the council will discuss whether to allow a medical marijuana dispensary at its July 20 meeting.
Spokesman Joseph Carrello said the city currently forbids dispensaries and commercial cultivation, but that may change.
“This was brought up at last night’s council meeting,” Carrello said Thursday. “(The council) wants to bring the discussion to the table. They just approved the budget for next year, and they said ‘we need to save some money.’ ”
The council did not give a timetable for when the new cannabis discussion will begin.
City Manager Joseph Carlini confirmed the city also forbids commercial cultivation, but he expects the council to re-examine the issue soon given the potential revenue.
“We haven’t been a proponent of (marijuana), but everyone is looking for additional revenue,” he said. “And this is absolutely a revenue source.”
Carlini said he has sought input from the Tulare police and fire departments.
Unlike most other Valley cities, Tulare actually has two legal medical cannabis dispensaries. Carlini named two addresses, which The Bee identified as the Tulare Alternative Relief Association and Tulare Alternative Health Care. Both will not be allowed to sell to recreational buyers, Carlini said, because doing so would require a new ordinance. As of Friday, the two companies have not contacted the city about selling recreational pot.
About 15 minutes north of Tulare, a legal medical dispensary in Goshen sought to enter the recreational market but was blocked by Tulare County.
Visalia police Sgt. Damon Maurice said the city’s bans are consistent with the rest of the Valley. However, it allows for the personal-use cultivation of up to 12 plants.
Spokeswoman Allison Mackey said the city council last heard a cannabis presentation in February. It voted to delay all discussion for six months, choosing to wait and see what its neighbors and the state legislature does in the months leading to Proposition 64 regulations taking effect. That discussion is expected to resume in late August or September.
Community Development Manager Julie D. Phillips said Porterville also outlaws commercial marijuana activities. Like Visalia, its ordinance allows for the personal cultivation of up to 12 cannabis plants.
Phillips said the city council could revisit the issue as soon as September, but no firm plans had been made as of Thursday.
City Manager Nicole Zieba said Reedley currently mirrors the bans of neighboring cities.
Residents are now required to obtain a permit from the city before growing the six plants allowed by the new state law. This allows the city to ensure the cultivation is safely secure, well-ventilated, out of the reach of children and so on, Zieba said. The city has not yet set a fee for this service, though it plans to. No one has yet applied for a permit, Zieba added.
Proposition 64 allows a city to set “reasonable regulations” on personal-use cultivation. However, what qualifies as “reasonable” has been under some debate. The American Civil Liberties Union and Drug Policy Alliance recently filed a lawsuit against the city of Fontana in San Bernardino County. The lawsuit claims the city’s requirement that residents pay a $411 fee and allow staff inside their home is a violation of their rights under the new law.
Community Development Director Tom Navarro said the Sanger council is considering allowing one medical cannabis dispensary to suit patients’ needs. Commercial cultivation is off the table, he said, as are recreational dispensaries.
In September, Clovis’ city council voted unanimously to ban dispensaries and commercial growing. Then-Mayor Nathan Magsig said the council chose to side with the Clovis Police Department, which was against recreational marijuana.
Multiple attempts to reach the city of Clovis for comment were not successful.
Lemoore’s city council followed suit with Clovis. In September, then-City Manager Andrea Welsh said the Navy town’s large populations of federal employees, retirees and sailors prompted its leaders to move against anything federally illegal.
Councilman Ray Madrigal said at the time the council may revisit the issue if Proposition 64 passed.
However, Interim City Manager Nathan Olson said Friday that neither the city council nor its staff is considering marijuana.
“I’m looking five years down the road,” Olson said. “Cities that have (allowed marijuana) have found the taxes don’t come in as high as expected, and there’s crime that comes with it.”
“I think in five years, Lemoore’s going to look pretty good for families,” he added.