The Hanford City Council is holding a public hearing today to award the second of two permits for a storefront cannabis dispensary. According to tonight’s agenda, the city staff is strongly recommending Harvest of Hanford.
Six applicants completed the rigorous permit process and there remain three finalists.
The three finalists will present their case tonight to the council as to why they deserve the dispensary permit. The two other finalists besides Harvest of Hanford are, Herb N’ Joy and Elemental Wellness. All three received similarly high scores on their application, with Harvest receiving the highest score.
Harvest of Hanford’s proposed dispensary is on 6th Street between Green and White. Their proposed building will be within 600′ of WestCare, a non-profit a youth facility that provides recreation and substance abuse counseling for 12- to 18-year-olds.
Assumed both companies disqualified
In mid October two of the six applicants were accused of bribery. Dennis Fausone reported that two cannabis companies offered him money to evict his tenants, buy his building, or relent and let the city reclassify his building being designated as not a youth facility. He owns 410 E 7th Street, home to WestCare. Hanford Municipal Code states that a dispensary cannot locate within 600 feet of a youth facility.
In a letter written in August by Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata to city council members, she confirmed that two of the applicants were within 600 feet of WestCare. It could be assumed that the bribes came from these two applicants.
Around October 19, a Hanford city staff member called the listing agent of Golden Value at 401 E. 7.th Street, one of the proposed dispensary locations within 600 feet of WestCare. An anonymous source reported to the Voice that the staffer told the agent that the deal was off because the buyer of the building possibly tried to bribe Fausone.
In contrast, Harvest of Hanford, the second company alleged to try to bribe Fausone, was not disqualified but rather was recommended by the Hanford City Staff to receive the last dispensary permit.
Change of Heart
At the September 17 Hanford City Council meeting Caliva was granted the first pot dispensary permit. When council members inquired during the public hearing if Caliva was in a sensitive zone, Community Development Director Darlene Mata took great pains to explain that Caliva was not within 600 feet of WestCare.
Several of the council members expressed relief that Caliva was not within 600 feet of WestCare and voted in favor of the permit.
But now the city has determined that WestCare is not a youth facility and thus there is no longer a 600-foot sensitive zone around the building on 7th Street. According to the agenda packet put together by the city staff, “City staff and legal counsel have reviewed the services offered at this location and determined that its primary use is servicing veterans and youth under the age of 18 by providing counseling for drug and alcohol dependency. As such, Westcare does not fall within the definition of a youth facility.”
In the past, Fausone discovered that the city has classified WestCare as a youth facility. Because Fausone was feeling bullied by the city and the cannabis industry, he went to the Community Development Department and paid his $135 to get a zoning verification. The zoning verification letter states that the building is used as an “office and Youth Center.”
Vice Mayor John Draxler said he had no comment about the alleged bribes. But Draxler did say that the fact that Harvest of Hanford is within 600 feet of WestCare will not factor into his vote Tuesday night.
“I am taking our lawyer’s word for it that WestCare is not a youth facility,” said Draxler.
The Valley Voice reached out to Hanford City Manager Mike Olmos to ask why one company was disqualified for the alleged bribes to Fausone but Harvest of Hanford was not. Olmos did not return our calls.
Vying to be biggest in the world
Harvest of Hanford’s corporate name is Harvest Health and Recreation Inc. According to the Arizona Republic Harvest Health and Recreation recently completed an $850 million dollar acquisition of Illinois-based cannabis company Verano Holdings. That acquisition makes Harvest the largest cannabis company in the United States with 123 retail sites in 16 states and territories.
Harvest is a “multi-state behemoth that was bringing in more than $1 million in revenue every 10 days as of September. It has expanded since then,” said the Republic.
In comparison, Hanford’s yearly budget is around $32 million.
According to the Business Wire Harvest is a vertically-integrated cannabis company with one of the largest and deepest footprints in the U.S. “We believe that we can fulfill our objective of becoming the most valuable cannabis company in the world,” said Chief Executive Officer Steve White.’
An anonymous source from Hanford said that the city council might fear a lawsuit from Harvest if they vote against the company because of the bribery scandal. While it is documented through texts and witnesses that two applicants attempted to bribe Fausone, it is unknown if it the bribes originated from the company itself or the seller.
“If the city council members are scared now about litigation,” the Voice asked, “how are they going to feel after the largest cannabis company in the United States gets a dispensary permit?”
“That’s pretty scary,” said the source.