Political Notebook

Fresno County supervisors will examine Coalinga cannabis oil issue

Fresno County officials are trying to deter Coalinga from allowing a marijuana growing operation to move into the city.

The county’s formal opposition to pot dates to 2013, when supervisors banned medical marijuana. Violators are fined $1,000 per plant found in unincorporated areas. The ban doesn’t include cities, but most Fresno County cities have similar laws.

But Coalinga officials say that laws likely will change in November, when Californians are expected to vote on a measure allowing recreational use of marijuana. If the state approves such a law, city officials want to be ready for new business ventures.

Coalinga officials propose leasing the Claremont Community Correctional Facility – a city-owned mini-prison shuttered when the state stopped paying to keep prisoners there in 2011 – to a Southern California company that wants to turn it into a marijuana growing operation.

Coalinga officials are considering placing a measure on the November ballot to find out if residents would support that venture.

Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said the county board needs to reach a consensus opinion on Coalinga’s plans. Borgeas and Chairman Buddy Mendes suggested that a discussion item be placed on the Tuesday meeting agenda.

Borgeas said the board should discuss “whether we’d like to submit a letter to the city expressing our concern over the proposed ballot initiative and manufacturing facility.”

If the issue does get on the November ballot, Borgeas said the county should consider writing an opposition viewpoint.

The city’s plan for a marijuana growing facility for cannabis oil production does not include a dispensary. The oil would go to communities with dispensaries, but not in Coalinga or other cities where it’s not permitted, City Council Member Patrick Keough said.

City has other offers

He said Monday that the proposal by Ocean Grown Extracts isn’t the only marijuana-related offer the city has fielded for the Claremont facility. The state built the jail for $20 million and it’s still maintained at city cost of $50,000 annually. Closing the jail drained about $1.1 million in annual city revenue that paid for police, firefighters and other city services.

“We have people coming in who want to buy the facility outright, which would take us 100 percent out of debt,” he said.

Additionally, the city could have 100 or more jobs and about $3 million to $6 million more in revenue if it OKs pot production at the jail.

Keough said nobody from the county has asked him about the city’s plans. He said he feels like county officials are trying to condemn the city for attempting to fix its budget problem.

Mendes said he recognizes Coalinga’s financial problems, but noted that Sheriff Margaret Mims opposes the plan and the board could follow her lead.

Mims said, “There are so many details to this I haven’t heard yet and I hope they are not getting in too deep before they have all the information they need to know.

“When medical marijuana laws were approved by voters, it wasn’t for revenue generation,” she said.

“Drug trafficking is very lucrative,” Mims said, “that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

Michael Green, spokesman for fresnocannabis.org, said Coalinga should be able to retain its independence despite the opinions of Mims and the county supervisors.

“If you respect local control at all, you must respect Coalinga’s opportunity to chart its own destiny,” he said.

More pot talk

Also Tuesday, supervisors will discuss changing the county’s medical marijuana cultivation ordinance to allow a hearing officer to consider appeals to fines for violators. Up until now, the Board of Supervisors was the hearing body for anyone who appealed citations.

A hearing officer would remove the supervisors from hearing citation appeals. Appeals of a hearing officer’s decision will be heard in Fresno County Superior Court, the same as appeals to the supervisors’ decisions are now.

Supervisors also will be asked to change their medical marijuana cultivation ban ordinance to remove prosecution of cases as potential misdemeanors. The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that the county could not make violations of the ordinance a criminal act. No criminal cases were filed for violations of the ordinance since it was enacted two years ago, said County Counsel Dan Cederborg.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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