The Hanford City Council held a work session November 15 to hear a presentation by community development director, Darlene Mata, and Police Chief Parker Sever about two Canadian medical marijuana facilities. Mata and Sever visited the two facilities in October. City Manager Derrel Pyle, Police Chief Sever, and Police Captain Pat Crowe visited a third facility in San Jose, California.
The research trip to Canada and the presentation was in response to a request by Purple Heart Patient Center to open a medical marijuana processing facility in Hanford’s Industrial Park. The proposed facility, in the 900,000 square-foot former Pirelli Tire Factory, is projected to employ 1,115 workers at wages starting at $15 per hour. At full capacity, the cultivation center would be Kings County’s largest private employer and is projected to generate $14 million in tax revenue.
Purple Heart Patient Center has operated a distribution center in Oakland since 2006, providing medical marijuana for those patients who legally qualify. This would be their first processing center.
Mata and Sever took a reconnaissance mission to Tweed in Smiths Falls and Bedrocan in Toronto to gather more information before attempting to write city regulations concerning the cultivation of medical marijuana. The purpose of the trip was also to gather more information so the council members could make an informed decision on whether or not to approve similar facilities in Hanford.
During a previous city council meeting it was decided that Mata and Sever would visit facilities in Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana use is legal. Those plans were scrapped when trip organizers realized that the laws surrounding growing medical and recreational marijuana were completely different animals. In addition, neither Colorado or Washington had a comparably sized facility as proposed by Purple Heart.
Tweed is a 380,000 square-foot facility that was formerly a Hershey factory. Its total grow area is not as large as Purple Heart’s proposed area but is currently under expansion. Bedrocan’s grow area is 50,000 square feet. Mata and Sever also visited a second facility of Tweed in Niagara on the Lake, which is a 325,000 square-foot greenhouse. Because some strains of marijuana grow better indoors while others react very well to natural sunlight, Tweed built both the indoor and outdoor facilities.
Mata and Sever reported back to city council that the odor from the greenhouse could be smelled a block away and that Tweed’s neighbors complained. The council decided that any proposed ordinance concerning growing medical marijuana should disallow any type of greenhouse.
At Tweed and Bedrocan the flower is harvested for direct sale and the leaves and stems are harvested for extraction into oils. Extracting the oil by use of butane or solvents is illegal in Canada and is the source of many accidental fires in the United States.
Tweed is a state-run facility because medical marijuana is legal in Canada and is considered a pharmaceutical. Banking is not an issue. Banking will be an issue for Hanford as the substance is still illegal on the federal level in the United States.
Tweed utilizes the Canada’s postal service to deliver its product, so neither is there an issue surrounding the distribution of marijuana.
Water and electricity usage were also an issue of concern for the city council. Water use over six months at Tweed averaged 9,023 gallons per day and 6.27 gallons per minute. The average projected water use for 750,000 square-feet of grow space proposed by Purple Heart is 125 gallons per minute.
Electricity use at Tweed was an average of 29.45 megawatts per day. The average projected electricity use for Purple Heart would be 589 megawatts per day.
Besides water and electricity, security was a major issue for the Hanford City Council and members of the local law enforcement. Tweed had security personnel 24/7 and all interior and exterior doors were key-coded. The entire facility was under monitored surveillance and all personnel undergo background checks by Health Canada. The final product is kept in a level 9 Security vault which has reinforced concrete, floors, ceiling and walls.
Police Chief Sever said, “looking at the facilities we went to, even the district attorney was impressed. Do I think if a facility like that was in Hanford I could regulate it? Yes I do.”
Purple Heart’s business plan states that they will supply all of the needed security so there will be no expense to the city.
No state permits until 2018
After the presentation a few details about the Purple Heart facility were discussed. One challenge was that Purple Heart’s business plan indicates that it will sublet the space to five or six separate growers to comply with current state rules. California currently has a limit of cultivating up to two acres, with allowance up to four acres. Since the passing of Proposition 64, after five years there is no limitation on size of facilities medical or recreational. Until then, Purple Heart intends on subletting because the facility is equal to 20 acres, which would need to be broken down into four-acre parcels.
Questions arose over who would manage and vet all the different tenants or if Purple Heart would take on that responsibility. .
It was also revealed that California has no plans to issue permits to grow marijuana commercially for more than a year. Mata said that the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) will not start issuing permits until January 1, 2018. She said that only those companies that have a local permit will be considered for a BMCR or state permit. The state is encouraging strict regulations to be put in place by the cities and counties and that local ordinances would overrule anything in the state permit.
If the city or county does not allow the growing of marijuana, BMCR will not issue the company a permit.
Another concern was over Hanford’s Industrial Park. It was discussed that when the Coalinga City Council approved the growing of medical marijuana, every parcel in their industrial park was snatched up by medical marijuana companies and the price of the land tripled.
Hanford City Council reacts
Councilmember Russ Curry reminded everyone in attendance that pot is still federally listed as a schedule one drug–along with heroine–and is illegal. He also said that we still don’t know what the state regulations surrounding pot grow sites will be.
Councilmember David Ayers was concerned about handing over Hanford’s entire industrial park to pot growers. He wanted a stipulation saying that only the Purple Heart facility would be approved and no others sites. He also said the banking issue still concerned him but was “fine with moving forward with caution.”
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez was concerned about the water use and also asked if the plant could use solar power and not be on Hanford’s grid. Pyle said that the old tire factory needed a new roof and that using the opportunity to put on solar panels would be explored.
Mayor Justin Mendes said that he supported moving forward but with an ordinance that protects the city. He said that Purple Heart could provide a potential revenue stream and that the city should always be looking for new ones. “We need to strike a balance between the social costs of growing marijuana in Hanford and the projected revenue,” he said.
After the presentation the city council directed the staff to write a draft ordinance that would allow for the cultivation of medical marijuana. It was also decided that Purple Heart would be asked to pay for staff time, consultants and legal costs and any necessary Environmental Impact Reports.
Mata said that the draft ordinance will be written not just for Purple Heart, but will address the issue of permitting for any medical marijuana processing plant.
Though the vote was unanimous to go forward with writing the ordinance, there is not agreement among the city council members on whether to approve a medical marijuana facility inside the Hanford city limits.
New city council members sworn in December 6th
Two new city council members were elected to the Hanford City Council on November 8 who may change the complexion of its views on medical marijuana. Sue Sorenson will be taking Russ Curry’s seat and Martin Devine will be taking Gary Pannett’s seat on the council.
A swearing in ceremony will take place during Hanford’s regularly scheduled city council meeting with a reception to follow. The meeting will be December 6 at 7pm at the city council chambers.