Hanford City Council voted at its March 19 meeting to legalize pot deliveries and recreational marijuana inside city limits.
Recreational pot is legal in the state, but is not legal within the city of Hanford or many other Central Valley towns.
But that is about to change.
The council voted 4-1 to allow two storefront recreational pot dispensaries in the downtown retail zone and two pot delivery businesses in the industrial park.
Newly elected Council Member Art Brieno was the one dissenting vote.
Hanford City Manager Darrell Pyle said that the zoning change will now be sent to the planning commission, which will most likely vote on the issue during its first meeting in April. Its recommendation will then go back to the city council.
To finalize the legalization of recreational pot within the city limits the council needs to do a second reading of the ordinance, and according to Pyle, that will likely happen at its next regular meeting on April 2.
The city council also voted to discard limits on the number of businesses who can apply to cultivate or sell pot. The city chose instead to select a few of the best qualified businesses from a large pool of applicants.
Tuesday’s vote contradicted past city councils.
In November of 2017 the city council awarded permits to three companies to grow and test medicinal pot, but took great pains to stress that any pot grown in the industrial park would immediately be shipped out of town. They also restricted the cultivation to medicinal pot, all while affirming their opposition to recreational use.
But it’s a new day in Hanford.
Eight to ten residents, mostly business owners, spoke in favor of legalizing recreational pot during the public hearing and they requested that the dispensaries be located in the heart of downtown.
It seems a few business owners took a field trip to Woodlake and realized what their city was missing.
Though Farmersville is hot on their heels, Woodlake has the only legal dispensary in the Central Valley, and to say business is booming is an understatement. The poor rural town has transformed from a dusty outpost to a vibrant shopping destination for pot.
In a picturesque old brick building the dispensary, Valley Pure, shares the sidewalk with a hip, spacious café appropriately called “Munchies” that sells Starbucks-type drinks and oversized brownies
One of the partners of Valley Pure, Wes Hardin, just happens to be a Hanford resident and attended Tuesday night’s meeting. He said during public comment that Hanford is missing out on a lot of sales tax potential.
Hardin reported that Woodlake’s dispensary has 3000 Hanford customers a month and that Valley Pure makes 15 deliveries a day to Hanford.
Licensed marijuana vendors can deliver pot anywhere in the state, even if the destination city has not legalized it.
But Hanford can’t tax a product that comes from Woodlake, even if they have now legalized deliveries. The city will only be able to tax those deliveries that originate in licensed businesses in its own industrial park.
Also, contrary to some meeting attendees’ understanding, Hanford will not be able to tax pot delivered through weedmaps even if it does originate in the city. Weedmaps is the black market happening in plain sight and is beyond the reach of Uncle Sam.
Council Member Francisco Ramirez had formally only been in favor of medicinal marijuana but was swayed during the public hearing.
“If the police department had been against dispensaries I would have not voted in favor. But Parker was supportive,” (referring to Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.)
Ramirez said that Sever was not in favor of recreational pot but said that it was here to stay and legalizing it in the downtown area would be helpful. He said at least now they know where to monitor it.
Locating the dispensaries downtown will have other benefits, such as its a double sales tax zone and the dispensaries will attract more foot traffic. Ramirez’ goal was to locate a dispensary closer to Tenth Avenue to help revitalize the area around the abandoned theater.
“It’s a win/win situation. It will help our downtown, help our seniors and veterans to get their medicine instead of having to travel far away, and reduce the number of homeless downtown because there will be a higher police presence,” said Ramirez.
Brieno was the only council member unconvinced. “My support stops at medicinal use.”
“In Colorado, where it is already legal, there has been an increase in emergency room visits and accidents.”
Brieno is referring to a study that said marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 32% since Colorado legalized pot. Of all the traffic deaths, almost 20% were marijuana-related. The study also said that marijuana-related emergency department visits increased by 29% and that marijuana-related hospitalizations increased by 38%. Marijuana-related calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison Center increased by 72%.
Brieno also said that legalization leads to younger users. The Colorado study states that there was a significant drop in the age of marijuana users as a result of legalization and a greater number of 12- to 18-year-olds smoking pot.
He brought up the fact that while official dispensaries have to follow the law, the black market is going to flourish as a result.
“Why would you pay $80 an ounce when you could get it for $40 or $50?”
“The only people I come in contact with who smoke pot are shady characters. At homeless sites it’s the first thing I smell.”
Concerning legalizing deliveries, he voted against that also. “If Hanford residents have to go to Woodlake, that’s better.”
“This was a downfall of the state when Proposition 64 passed. The people who promoted it were mostly from Silicon Valley,’ he said.