Other Opinions

Cannabis in Fresno: Neighborhoods in south and west will be harmed by new law

By Miguel Arias

Supporters of marijuana dispensaries sit in the Fresno City Council chambers while awaiting their turn to give public comment prior to a vote by the City Council in June 2017.
Supporters of marijuana dispensaries sit in the Fresno City Council chambers while awaiting their turn to give public comment prior to a vote by the City Council in June 2017. Fresno Bee file

On Christmas Eve corporate cannabis interests received a multimillion-dollar present from Fresno Mayor Lee Brand. Unfortunately, that gift will mean south Fresno will be stuck with the bill and we will perpetuate the tale of two cities for generations to come.

The city of Fresno Cannabis Ordinance designed by Brand and his staff will benefit wealthy corporate cannabis interests and undermine public safety, while residents of south Fresno once again get nothing in return. The 54-page ordinance carefully excludes industry participation of residents from neglected and low-income neighborhoods, which have been deeply impacted by the drug war, while forcing these same neighborhoods to bear all of the industry’s environmental impacts. Excluding entire communities from future prosperity is not only unfair, but it also ensures that the black market will continue to thrive and interfere with public safety for all of us.

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Fresno City Councilman-elect Miguel Arias. CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

The intent of Proposition 64, which Fresno voters supported, was not just to legalize marijuana use in California, but to give underserved communities impacted by the drug war, suffering from higher unemployment and disinvestment, the opportunity to benefit economically from this rapidly growing industry. The underlying concept here is that opportunity is the best long-term solution to crime, poverty and economic stagnation.

This is why it is so problematic that the current Fresno ordinance completely excludes “social equity” provisions which ensure participation from small, local, and minority-owned businesses and ensure fairness in our economic growth. If approved by the mayor, the current language will facilitate a continued underground market, which police Chief Jerry Dyer has repeatedly said will undermine our city’s public safety. The solution is to reject the current ordinance and support a new policy that discourages illegal dealing and encourages smaller and more geographically distributed operations.

The current ordinance also protects residents of north Fresno from the pollution and nuisance generated by the cultivation, manufacture, and transport of cannabis products by exclusively locating such operations in west and southwest Fresno. These neighborhoods are already surrounded by heavy industry and pollution, resulting in the dirtiest air in California. This concentration of pollution, and history of segregation and lack of investment, is why residents of south Fresno today can expect to live 20 years less than residents of north Fresno. These facts were also ignored when the city recently approved $48 million in subsidies for the west Fresno Amazon and Ulta fulfillment centers, which will bring thousands of additional diesel trucks day after day, yet they are not required to hire local neighborhood residents.

It is clear the current ordinance is more of the same. Instead of using this ordinance as a problem-solving tool to right historical wrongs, lift up our local economy and help raise neglected neighborhoods, we will just get more policies that put our city at the bottom of so many national health and economic lists.

Fresno, the fifth-largest city in California, has millions of dollars in potential revenue at stake in this decision. Our job as city leaders is to do everything we can to help local small businesses and to protect the health and well-being of our residents. The current ordinance will only ensure outside corporate interests make more money at the expense of our neighborhoods and our residents’ health. Enough is enough.

The mayor recently stated that he would “deal with the Cannabis Ordinance when it arrived on [his] desk”. On Dec. 24th, he failed to exercise his veto authority, allowing an ordinance that will further perpetuate our “Tale of Two Cities,” and breaking his commitment to be a mayor for all Fresans.

We cannot simply create a new industry in which south Fresno gets all the negative impact while the rest of the city benefits from the revenue, leaving our poorest and unhealthiest neighborhoods worse off.

After being sworn in, I will immediately begin working with the new City Council to revise this flawed policy, ensuring revenue-generated benefits go to the neighborhoods burdened with the industry and strengthening social equity language that ensures local diverse small businesses also participate. All Fresno should share in the benefits as well as the burdens of our economic growth.

Miguel Arias is the Fresno councilman-elect for District 3