Should Visalia Allow Pot Dispensaries?
I have been covering the grand reveal of Visalia’s Annual Opinion Poll for the last six years and it’s usually a love fest over how wonderful Visalia is.
This year’s results presented by the Citizens Action Committee (CAC) during the October 7 city council work session were no different. The poll showed that 91% of respondents believe the quality of life in Visalia is average to high. That is a 3% increase over last year. Respondents also rated the city’s efforts in providing a safe community at 85%, a 3% higher rate than in 2018.
Vice-Mayor Steve Nelsen, as the CEO/Executive Director of Downtown Visalia, was happy to see that downtown was by far the most popularly visited venue in the city over the last year.
But several city council members complained about how the results of the poll were skewed because of demographics. The CAC did report that 52% of the respondents make $70,000 or higher and that 75% own their own home. Nelsen stated the obvious, saying that of course they report a high quality of life because they have the money to pay for it.
But Mayor Bob Link was most concerned about the age-gap of the respondents. Only one-quarter of the respondents were under 34-years old and the council felt the lack of young respondents may have skewed the results. One question was, “Should the City re-examine its current position on prohibition of the sale of recreational marijuana, medical marijuana dispensaries, and medical marijuana cultivation over 100 square-feet?”
Fifty-one percent said that the city should not reconsider its ban on pot dispensaries and 39% said yes. Councilmember Brian Poochigian commented that if most of the respondents were young the results might be flipped.
Mayor Bob Link said that when he talks to his peers they have one opinion about pot dispensaries and his grandchildren have quite another opinion. He suggested that the city council think again about at least discussing the issue of pot dispensaries.
I think not.
My husband and I saw The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra at the Visalia Fox Theater last Friday night and happened to be sitting next to a bunch of seniors from Harmony Magnet School in Strathmore. They were frequent visitors to Visalia so I thought I would ask them if they thought Visalia should have pot dispensaries.
Of the seven students I talked to, only one said that Visalia should consider allowing a pot dispensary. But he then changed his mind by the end of the conversation to a no. One student offered me some of his popcorn then asked me to repeat the question because he thought I was talking about pots and pans.
My first take-away from my discussion with the students was that any parent concerned about their teenagers being exposed to drugs needs to immediately enroll their child into Harmony Magnet School. Not a one of those kids smoked pot.
My second take away was that, the one student who said “yes” obviously changed his answer after hearing his peers question the usefulness of Visalia having a pot dispensary. It showed that he really did not feel strongly one way or the other and hadn’t given the issue much thought.
And therein lies the problem.
I realized that it’s true that the Visalia survey did not include the opinions of many youth, but in terms of legalized pot–so what? Is a twenty-something raising teenagers? Have they ever had to bail out anyone from jail for a DUI? Are they paying a mortgage on a house with adult kids? Do they have an in-depth understanding of corruption?
We should be asking our youth if the city has enough parks, entertainment venues, quality teachers, sports facilities, or if the city effectively deals with bullying. Why would we want to know their opinion on if Visalia should open a pot dispensary? While we are at it, why not ask the youth if Visalia should lower the drinking age to 18? I know Visalia can’t change the drinking age but what do you think their response would be?
The adults in the room need to make the decision about allowing pot dispensaries with an eye on how it will affect our youth, our residents, and our tourism.
In the mean, after reporting on this issue since 2011–even before pot was legalized in 2016–I’m pretty sure I have the answer.
As all the other towns give in to the cannabis industry, being a pot-free city can be Visalia’s shtick. “Come enjoy a family friendly tourist destination where you can stroll through our downtown without having to pass by pot dispensaries or smell marijuana.”
There are families who want to travel with adult kids who don’t want to worry about them running off to a dispensary the minute they pull into the Marriot. Then there are other families who just don’t want to expose their children to pot while going out to dinner. There are also those struggling with addiction or in rehab who might rather not have to see it.
In fact, Hanford just lost a family friendly business, the Barrelhouse Taproom, because the city’s plans for marijuana dispensaries differed from Barrelhouse’s vision. “We wanted to make it family friendly and proposed the installation of some playground equipment and picnic tables similar to what we have here in downtown Paso Robles,” an owner told The Sun.
The Sun reported that the two sides couldn’t come together on the issue of pot dispensaries.
Then there is the element of corruption that is inevitable with an all-cash industry, especially when it’s a billion-dollar industry.
I will never be convinced that strategically targeted palms were not greased in Woodlake’s head -spinning change of attitude about pot. The city council did a 180-degree change from “Not on my watch” to being the first, by years, to open a pot dispensary. Their dispensary opened within months of the first licenses issued by the state and, as of today, is still the only dispensary in the South Valley.
Last week the Valley Voice reported on possible corruption in Hanford concerning pot. It seems some Hanford city staff are suspiciously trying to convince a building’s owner that his tenant, WestCare, a youth facility, is not a youth facility. At the same time the building’s owner has been getting calls from two cannabis companies which have bought buildings within 600 feet of WestCare, asking him, “Why don’t you come up with a number and we will see what we can do?”
California state law says that a pot dispensary cannot be within 600 feet of a youth facility.
Just recently, it was revealed that one of the four Rudy Giuliani clients indicted last week in an intricate plan to funnel foreign campaign donations to U.S. politicians was also funneling millions of Ukrainian and Russian money into Sacramento’s pot industry. “He and his associates have become the de facto pot kings of Sacramento, controlling far more licenses than anyone else and papering the city with billboards and ads for their dispensaries,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
Pot is legal, so the Visalia City Council has an obligation to make sure residents have access. But Visalians do have access. Right now residents can drive to Woodlake, and very soon, they will be able to drive the 10 minutes to Farmersville, whose dispensary will be right on Highway 198.
And if they don’t have a car they can have it delivered.
It’s great that Woodlake has a pot dispensary and more on the way, and that Farmersville, Hanford, Lemoore and Lindsay will soon be opening theirs. Small rural towns have few avenues from which to generate sales tax–so all power to them.
I encourage all marijuana connoisseurs to head out to those cities’ dispensaries–then come back home or pay a visit to our dispensary-free Visalia.