Hanford Awards Pot Dispensary Permit

Artist rendering of Hanford’s first pot dispensary. Caliva’s logo is a palm tree to represent coastal grown cannabis.

What a difference a new city council makes.

After years of decrying that marijuana is a schedule one drug along with heroin, Hanford City Council awarded its first permit for a recreational pot dispensary during its September 17 meeting. Minutes before, the council also changed the zoning of a few parcels from Downtown Mixed Use to Service Commercial, allowing the dispensary to locate at the former Serano Furniture store.

The vote was 4-1 in favor of granting Caliva a recreational pot dispensary permit. Representing the old guard and voting no was Council Member Art Brieno, who has always voiced his opposition to easy access to recreational pot.

Only one more storefront permit, and two delivery service permits, are available in Hanford and will be awarded later in the year.

After an initial Central Valley backlash to Proposition 64 to legalize pot in 2016, Visalia remains one of the few cities not to allow dispensaries. Hanford City Council voted to allow recreational pot dispensaries in April of this year.

Caliva plans on opening its doors during the first quarter of 2020 and will be the first adult-use pot dispensary in Kings County. Woodlake’s Valley Pure was the first to open in Tulare County and the company’s Farmersville dispensary right on Highway 198 will be the second.

Caliva bought the 7,370 square-foot former Serano Furniture store at 104 N. Douty. Because of a change in the General Plan, Serano Furniture was able to relocate to the Hanford Mall.

Rand Martin, spokesperson for Caliva, said that it plans on hiring 50 employees and will offer minimum wage, full benefits, stock options and education opportunities. The store will have retail and delivery of medicinal and recreational marijuana. Though the state allows dispensaries to be open from 9am to 10pm, Caliva plans on closing at 9pm.

Caliva projects that in the first year it will generate $3.7 million in revenue and by 2022, $12 million.

Mayor Sue Sorenen asked for a recap of Caliva’s security plan. Martin said that there will be 24-hour surveillance and all video can be accessed by the Hanford Police Department. He said that the exterior cameras’ high resolution will be able to read a car’s license plate.

Two security guards will be patrolling the inside and out of the building during business hours and one will be doing the same when the business is closed. Martin also said that when the business is receiving a delivery there is a “trap door” to ensure delivery personnel are not ambushed.

Martin added that their flagship store in San Jose is located in a high crime area and that their tight security has actually lowered the crime rate. He said that because Caliva shares its surveillance videos with the police department that the police were able to identify and catch suspects involved in crimes not involving the dispensary.

Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever said he called the San Jose Police Department and confirmed this information and felt the added 24-hour security would be a benefit to Caliva’s neighbors in Hanford.

Caliva already obtained a permit last year to open a pot distribution center in the industrial park. That distribution center went into operation in March of this year.

Caliva was also granted a permit to develop a recreational marijuana grow facility in the industrial park but never pulled the papers. According to Martin, California is experiencing a glut in production and it is unlikely the company will build the facility in the near future.

Oregon, which legalized pot starting in July of 2015, is also feeling the growing pains of its newest industry and has over one million pounds of unsold pot.

During the public hearing six people spoke against approving the permit and one person spoke in favor.

Michelle Brown, Director of Main Street Hanford, spoke in favor and said that the majority of businesses were looking forward to Caliva opening its store downtown. She voiced her pleasure with the fact that Caliva had been participating in the Thursday Night Market Place and that downtown would not have to endure a large vacancy left by Serano Furniture.

Andrew Cromwell, Pastor of Koinonia Church, voiced his concerns about the location. He said that Colorado was a great case study because it was one of the first states to legalize adult-use pot. According to the statistics the crime rate has significantly increased in neighborhoods where pot dispensaries had located. He also said that infant and toddler poisonings from ingesting pot increased 150%.

Cromwell also thought the location right off the freeway, and being the entrance to the business district, isn’t the best first impression of Hanford to give visitors.

The owner of the building for WestCare Adolescent Services said he felt ignored by the planning department when it was considering the permit and that he did not find out until August that a pot dispensary was moving in four blocks away. He said this was a very sensitive area and not appropriate for this type of business.

WestCare is a substance abuse rehab service for adolescents that also serves Hanford’s veterans.

The owner said he is now getting calls asking him to sell his building but WestCare has been there 11 years and they do not want to move.

Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata replied by saying that the new dispensary will not be within 600 feet of WestCare or any other sensitive services, as is required in the city’s pot ordinance.

Charles Magill, a Fresno lawyer who represents one of the companies vying for the second dispensary permit, spoke for his clients who were in the middle of their application process with the city. Magill said that his clients were upset that Caliva jumped the line in the permit process. He also said that his clients bought a building 204 feet away from the former Serano Furniture store and are now disqualified because it is too close to Caliva.

Mata assured Magill that there was nothing in the city’s ordinance that put a restriction on how close the two dispensaries can be. She also tried to explain, with limited success, that marijuana-related businesses that had already been through the rigorous permit process, such as Caliva, have already passed the background checks which is phase one of three phases of the application process.

Because the city used by the term “streamline,” the other applicants were not convinced that Caliva wasn’t given an unfair advantage, where in fact the city was trying to eliminate redundancy in the time intensive process.

Sorensen likened Caliva getting its permit to permitting a liquor store. “Do they have higher crime rates? Some do but not all,” she said.

Martin addressed the council and expressed how thrilled he was to join Hanford’s business community and felt it was a great location. The last problem not resolved at the meeting was the lack of parking. Martin said that they will work with the city and have employees park in a lot across from 6th Street so they do not take up street parking.

Six additional companies are vying for the last storefront dispensary and two delivery-only permits. Mata said a vote deciding on who gets those permits may happen in November.

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