Hanford’s not ready to hit the brakes on a proposed medical marijuana cultivation center just yet.
The Hanford City Council voted unanimously to conduct deeper research on how a facility might affect Hanford before it makes a final decision.
Councilmembers instructed Hanford’s Community Development Director, Darlene Mata, and Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever to visit facilities both in and out of the state that run similar operations. The staff would bring back information so that the council can make an informed decision on whether or not to change the city ordinances governing marijuana cultivation in the city.
A new ordinance would then need to pass to approve cultivation to begin.
The proposed cultivation center would be located in the former Pirelli tire plant in Hanford’s Industrial Park on the far southwest side of town. The property is currently in escrow to be sold to Purple Heart Patient Care of Oakland.
Mata and Sever will travel to Colorado and Washington, two states where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal, and then taking trips to Bay Area and Los Angeles cultivation centers, though exact trip details will be ironed out next week.
In California, medical marijuana use was legalized in 1996, but 60% of the voters are in favor of passing Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational use at the state level. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
Mayor Justin Mendes said that the amount of work the city puts into research will be worth the headache because of the possible financial windfall to the city. While Mendes received feedback from residents that they did not want pot dispensaries in town, he said not everyone was against the cultivation center.
“I’m okay with it in the heavy industrial zone but nowhere else,” said Mendes.
According to Keith Stephenson, manager of Purple Heart Patient Care, the operation could employ — at full build-out — 1,115 workers. Wages would be $15 per hour. At its full capacity, the cultivation center would be Kings County’s largest private employer.
Stephenson said that the company would offer $25 per pound tax to the city, which could provide $14 million per year. The city’s annual general fund is approximately $24 million.
But first the city of Hanford has to pass an ordinance allowing pot farming in the city limits.
If the council likes what it hears back about other cultivation centers, it will direct the planning commission to decide on whether to allow pot cultivation within city limits. If the planning commission votes to change the ordinance, the city council will most likely hold a public hearing on the subject.
The decision will ultimately rest with the city council, which could affect this November’s election. Two city council seats are being contested.
Six people spoke during public comment about the medical marijuana cultivation center. Four were against and two were in favor.
Maria Galante said that marijuana is illegal and that Hanford should support the federal government. She said that pot brings a bad element to the city and that Hanford should instead do research on how to rehabilitate those hooked on drugs.
Michael Lamb, a former Marine who did two tours in Vietnam, said that there was a shooting a block from his house. The shooter was trying to steal marijuana from inside of a pot grow house. Lamb said he fought for our country and didn’t expect to be shot once he came home.
Besides the large amount of water that it takes to grow pot, he pointed out that the social costs will far outweigh any financial gain. Lamb said that it is a proven fact that marijuana causes lethargy and diminished mental capacity and added that alcohol and tobacco weren’t much better.
“Do we really need another drug?” he asked.
Natham Odham spoke in favor of the cultivation center. He said that hemp is one of the most versatile plants in the world. He also listed a number of products that can be made from the plant, and also listed about 20 medicinal benefits of pot.
Mike Lopez also spoke in favor of the cultivation center. He said that the good paying jobs will be a boon for Hanford, pointing out that the tire plant has been vacant since 2001, which represents a $2million loss every year for Hanford. “The taxes alone generated from occupancy of the plant would fix the roads around here,” he said.
Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez said that he refers to it as cannabis because of marijuana’s medicinal attributes. He said that his mother died of cancer and may not have had to spend the last two weeks of her life in a drug induced coma if she had access to cannabis.
He was in full support of the cultivation center in the industrial zone if the staff’s research is favorable.
Council member David Ayers said that as for the cultivation center the city should move forward with caution. But, he said, Proposition 64 is likely to pass so it’s in Hanford’s best interest to do the research. He also liked the idea of Police Chief Sever’s being involved in the research. Ayers said that the chief will need to come home and explain the entire process to the police. “The police need to feel comfortable with the cultivation center or forget it.”
Councilmember Russ Curry said, “I don’t want to see any of it. I want to represent the 31% of the voters who are against Proposition 64.” He pointed out that the federal government classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug and that it is of no medical use. Curry said that no one is even sure of marijuana’s uses or the side effects of the drug.
Despite his views on pot, Curry was in favor of further research on what problems Colorado and Washington have had with their cultivation centers, but he was completely against any cultivation in Hanford.
Council member Gary Pannett said that the old Pirelli tire plant is the perfect location because of the railroad tracks and the highway. What he was concerned about was security.
“Are our police going to be the front lines of security? Then we should get ready to hire many more,” Pannett said.
When the issue first came in front of the council in September, Stephenson said that the facility could be in full operation in 2017 and shipping product out by the end of 2017.
Curry and Pannett weren’t biting. Curry said that Purple Heart Patient Care was throwing around a lot of numbers that did not make sense. Curry pointed out that California was not even going to be issuing permits for growing pot until 2018.
Pannett pointed out that the number of jobs Purple Heart was promising was unrealistic. He said that locals will not be hired for the jobs pertaining to transportation, distribution and dispensaries. Pannett also questioned the validity of $14 million in revenues. He said that would be many years out. The Pirelli plant needs a new roof that will cost $8 million and the planting and harvesting will add another year.
Purple Heart Patient Center has operated in Oakland since 2006, providing medical marijuana for those patients who legally qualify. This would be their first major foray into the cultivation of marijuana. According to its website, they “serve patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and other illnesses. Our dispensary operates in full compliance with California’s medical cannabis laws, as patients and vendors must provide a valid California cannabis card and California ID.”
Stephenson said that there was an end of October deadline for the city council to make its decision. He has since said that deadline is flexible and he is encouraged that the council is moving forward with its research.
In other business, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes gave a presentation explaining the problems with Propositions 64 and 57. Prop. 64 concerns the legalization of recreational pot while Prop. 57 addresses the reduction of sentences for non-violent criminals to ease prison overcrowding. The city council voted to sign a proclamation against both propositions.