Marek Warszawski

Better late than never: Fresno poised to finally give the OK to medical marijuana

By Thursday afternoon, unless something screwy happens, the city of Fresno will no longer be in the Dark Ages when it comes to marijuana.

Instead, we’ll be in the Dim Ages.

Dim, as in faint, subdued and slow to understand as well as vague, shadowy and fuzzy.

Still, I suppose that counts as progress. And we primarily have Councilman Clint Olivier to thank.

“I think it’s important to move past the moral arguments and look pragmatically at the future of our city and how we’re going to protect our city,” Olivier said.

Tucked inside the consent calendar of this week’s City Council agenda is a set of regulations that would finally give the citizens of Fresno access to cannabis dispensaries while also opening up certain zoning areas to cultivators, distributors and manufacturers.

Each of the 14 retail businesses, two in each council district, would be classified as medical dispensaries. Meaning that anyone wishing to purchase marijuana needs to have a doctor’s recommendation, which are easy to obtain.

Now’s the time to point out California legalized medicinal cannabis way way back in 1996 — so long ago that Bill Clinton was midway through his presidency and the Spice Girls had their first No. 1 single.

AA Peoples Remedy 05
Twenty two years after California voters approved medical marijuana, the city of Fresno is finally ready to discuss a plan that would allow up to 14 dispensaries as well as other cannabis-related businesses. What about recreational sales? Guess that’ll have to wait until 2040. Andy Alfaro Modesto Bee file

What about recreational sales, which became legal Jan. 1 for adults 21 and over with the passage of Proposition 64?

Nope, we can’t have that, insist Councilmen Steve Brandau and Garry Bredefeld, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Mayor Lee Brand (who lately has been rather mum on this topic).

Why? Well, because we’d be sending the wrong message to children, crime would skyrocket and the entire city would go to pot.

You know, the normal fallacious logic.

I’ve already argued that Fresno’s medicinal-only plan will do little to curb the well-entrenched black market for cannabis. Nor will it generate the kind of tax revenue the city pines for and can so desperately use.

But it’s even more ridiculous now that the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the agency that regulates cannabis, has decreed marijuana deliveries can be made anywhere in the state, even in places where it’s banned.

In other words, if you’re a Californian who lives in a backward-thinking city or county, you still have the right to have cannabis delivered to your doorstep.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Steve and Garry.

Fresno is home to so many marijuana users that the market supports more than 70 dispensaries and 40 delivery services — even though they’re operating illegally.

Are all those people going to change their buying habits simply because our city leaders permitted a dozen or so medicinal dispensaries 22 years after the rest of the state? Not likely. And when Fresnans get cannabis delivered to their homes, the sales tax will go to the point of origin (i.e., someplace other than here).

None of this is lost on Olivier, the person primarily responsible for ushering Fresno out of the cannabis Dark Ages.

Like Brandau and Bredefeld, Olivier is a Republican. Like them, he is a conservative. Unlike them, he is libertarian and philosophically opposed to government regulating what people can put in their bodies.

“The War on Drugs, to me, is a government program that failed,” Olivier said. “Not just failed for the people who use drugs, but it’s also failed cities and communities throughout the country.”

With his clear eyes, short hair and political leanings, Olivier isn’t exactly the image that comes to mind when picturing a cannabis-rights warrior. But once California voters (as well as those in Fresno) passed Proposition 64, he seized upon the issue and made it the main focus of his final two years on City Council.

The 43-year-old is also the author of Proposition A, which gave the city the legal authority to tax cannabis sales and production. A whopping 71 percent of Fresno’s voters agreed.

“For us to hit 71 percent, that means even conservatives who voted against Prop. 64 see the handwriting on the wall that we have to protect our community and not send those tax revenues someplace else,” Olivier said.

Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier makes a motion to allow marijuana dispensaries within the city limits during Thursday’s meeting. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Were it up to Olivier, recreational, adult-use cannabis would be included in Fresno’s proposed regulations. He accepts that won’t happen, at least for now.

It’s strange to me that Fresno gladly takes money from a casino (Chukchansi Gold Resort) to put its name on a city-owned stadium, which is full of beer advertisements, while shying away from marijuana because of the message it sends to children.

Not to mention the same council members who are adamantly opposed to recreational cannabis consistently vote in favor of granting more licenses to sell alcohol.

But this is Fresno, where social stigmas have staying power. Especially when they can be exploited for political gain.

“I understand that people want to move slow, I understand that people are skeptical and I understand there are those in our community who are afraid,” said Olivier, who will step down at year’s end when his term ends.

“But it comes down to, as Fresnans, do we want to protect our city and reap the benefits? Because right now we’re in a situation where we could be sending millions of tax revenue outside the city limits.”

I strongly suspect future City Councils will see the logic in Olivier’s words. Even if this one doesn’t.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee
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