Half of the Visalia City Council still feels it’s too risky to allow cannabis-related businesses to operate inside the city limits and asked staff at city hall not continue their exploration of opening the city to the state’s fastest-growing industry.
Plenty of Interest
The move comes despite a flow of continuous inquiries from business people eager to come to town. While retail outlets are chomping at the bit for a cut of potential medical and recreational cannabis sales, industrial manufacturers, brokers and growers would also very much like to make use of the city’s attractive industrial parks to expand their businesses, says City Manager Randy Groom. Groom–armed with a multipage list of cannabis-related businesses that have recently contacted the city and been turned away–brought a report on the potential new source of tax revenue during a recent council work-session.
The consensus of the four-member council was split evenly, meaning that for now Visalia will continue its state of cannabis prohibition and will do so until that consensus changes.
“We just found ourselves in a curious time when we discussed this,” Groom said. “With the passing of Vice Mayor (Phil) Cox, we had a tied council.”
Cox died in June from complications relating to a long battle with cancer, leaving an unfilled seat on the council. His replacement should be appointed by summer’s end. It was during a council retreat in January the five-member council showed renewed interest in allowing pot-related business in town, so the mood may change again.
“I suspect we’ll be back with this to take their temperature,” Groom said. “If the council expressed interest, we’d have three and half dozen retailers calling us the next day.”
Not Just Heads and Highs
Pot shop owners aren’t the only commercially-minded entrepreneurs who want to move to Visalia. Cannabis cultivation and sales brings the need for processors to compound the various cannabis products, warehousing and distribution, brokering, lab testing, transportation and delivery, and even industrial manufacturing of products made from cannabis industry waste. All of these various businesses–essentially new or extended forms of the ag processing business already thriving here–have shown immediate interest in coming to Visalia, mainly Groom says because of our ready industrial park and the city’s central location.
“There are potential opportunities for recycling out at the industrial park,” said Councilman Greg Collins during the council’s discussion of the matter. “This (cannabis) could be one of those uses.”
Collins also pointed out Visalia’s cannabis users are already buying legal cannabis at outlets in surrounding communities or from delivery services based out of town, meaning the cannabis is here, but not the sales tax revenue its distribution generated. Groom says other cities find the extra money useful.
“They certainly like the revenue, especially the small cities,” he said. “It can be significant for them.”
Also making the retail and medical cannabis distribution business attractive is its relative safety. Unlike bars or liquor shops, cannabis dispensaries have not proven to increase crime in Tulare County so far.
“I always ask if there’s a down-side, and there’s not,” Groom said. “I have not heard any of them (the county’s other city managers) comment negatively on them. They tend to be very careful with their business.”
Tulare, Porterville, Woodlake, Lindsay and Farmersville allow cannabis resale to the public, as do Hanford and Lemoore. Farmersville City Manager Jennifer Gomez said her city’s pair of cannabis storefronts have been a boon to her town.
“No problems at all. Our two businesses, they’ve been great partners with the city,” she said. “We just have a good relationship. Our police department doesn’t get called out there. We don’t see more crimes because they’re there.”
Off the Bridge
Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen, however, feels the city isn’t mature enough yet to handle cannabis, despite its legality in 18 states and US territories and its decriminalization in 13 more.
“My mom used to say, ‘If your friends jump off a bridge, are you going to jump off with them?’ and because our neighboring cities are allowing marijuana to come into their jurisdiction doesn’t mean I have to follow suit,” Nelsen said.
Despite repeated studies showing up to 63% of opioid users decreased their opioid use when given access to medical cannabis, Nelsen said he believes the number of people locally using it to treat their chronic pain or other conditions is small.
“I understand some people have to use it for pain because pain medication is not working,” he said. “That’s probably a small segment of our community, so I would oppose any type of medical dispensary and cultivation or any of that in our city of Visalia.”
Reefer Madness Redux
Nelsen also warned that cannabis can drive its users insane.
“There are reports out that marijuana causes schizophrenia,” the mayor said. “That’s a pretty substantial report and that’s got some pretty good background material. It talks about the increases in spousal abuse and abuse in general based on people using marijuana.”
However, according to a study from June 2020 published by the National Institute of Health, cannabis does not cause mental illness.
“People predisposed to the development of psychotic illnesses are more vulnerable to the psychotomimetic effects of cannabis, more specifically, THC,” the NIH report said. “Per se, cannabis does not cause schizophrenia or psychosis.”
Nelsen remains unconvinced.
“When we did the Houston, now it’s a tobacco shop, it used to be a convenience store, and we had quite a few people here that talked against tobacco, tobacco sales near a school, images of tobacco near a school, the health aspects of tobacco, and it took us umpeen years to realize there’s a correlation between cancer and smoking and the ill effects of smoking,” he said. “We don’t have that basis right now on marijuana usage.”
Good News for Farmersville
Gomez knows when Visalia does join the rest of the state in allowing cannabis sales it will impact Farmersville’s income, but not too critically.
“I’ve always assumed it’s a matter of when Visalia will allow it,” she said. “So it’s something we’re aware of, especially when we’re preparing the budget. When Visalia says no, we’re like we’re OK for another year.”
And the city’s cannabis shops are well situated on Highway 198, making them very accessible no matter what Visalia does.
“Frankly, our location on the highway gives an advantage,” Gomez said. “We might see a dip in sales, but it’s not going to cause us to close doors or anything like that.”