Pot in California

Recreational marijuana could be available in Fresno at same time as medical. Here’s why

It’s beginning to look like medical marijuana and recreational pot will be legally available in Fresno at the same time.

The City Council had put a year between making medical dispensaries available in January 2019 and recreational sales legal in January 2020.

But the city is still working on the medical pot ordinance and hasn’t taken any applications.

The ordinance that approved medicinal dispensaries was adopted by the council in December, and last week the consultant working with the city said the mandatory environmental review is on schedule, according to Mark Standriff, the city’s spokesperson.

The council voted to approve medicinal cannabis in the first year of the ordinance and recreational the following year. Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, who is on the committee working on the ordinance, said by the time the city is ready to take applications from potential businesses, both types of retail marijuana will be legal.

“It’s a little frustrating because the process has taken a lot longer,” she said. “We’re trying to craft the social policy and regulations.”

Changes to marijuana ordinance

Originally, the ordinance called for the city manager to vet the applicants and decide where they can set up, but that has since changed. “The council is going to be more involved in allowing these dispensaries in districts,” Soria said.

The number of weed retail locations was capped at two per district. Also, permits will be made available to industrial marijuana businesses, like manufacturing and processing.

The process for when neighborhoods and business owners are told about the potential for a dispensary to open near them has been moved up, too, according to Councilmember Miguel Arias, who also is on the marijuana committee. The notice will go out after a potential business applies for a location, earlier in the process than originally adopted.

Other changes include allowing up to 30% of the permits to be issued on a social equity basis, Arias said. Those candidates must show they benefit certain groups – for example, the homeless, veterans or people formerly incarcerated for low-level drug offenses.

All owners will be required to undergo a background check, but, unlike the previous iteration of the ordinance, employees will not be subject to background checks.

“We actually want businesses to hire folks formerly incarcerated from the war on drugs,” Arias said.

The regulations were originally passed last year after Fresno voters in November overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to tax cannabis businesses.

Changes up for vote

The changes will need to be approved in a vote, likely during the Sept. 19 council meeting, Arias said.

Estimates say the industry could generate up to $10 million annually in new tax revenue for the city. The council voted to set 10% of the revenue aside for a community benefit fund.

Fresno, like most cities that allow dispensaries, has high standards for potential dispensaries, including high levels of security and an appealing business. Signage, hours, locations and a number of other requirements are in the ordinance.

Community advocates have pushed for equity in the process, calling on officials to make sure low-income communities and neighborhoods filled with people of color are able to benefit from the new industry. Those are the same communities over-policed by the war on drugs, according to Cesar Casamayor, co-founder of the People’s Dispensary Fresno.

He said he’d like to see at least half of the cannabis-related permits offered through the social equity process.

“It is not fair that the communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs continue to be affected,” Casamayor said.

Friendly California regulations

Cities all over the state have embraced the new revenue from taxing marijuana. California’s marijuana regulations are the most business-friendly in the nation, according to an analysis by the legal firm Thompson Coburn LLP.

The report noted there are a patchwork of different legal statuses for weed throughout the state, but found California scored better than any other state.

“With a robust supply chain for both medical and adult use emerging throughout the state, California leads the nation in its regulation of commercial cannabis activity and cannabis use,” the report says.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.