HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Coalinga Legalizes Medical Marijuana Operation
Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jul 2017
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2017 The Fresno Bee
Contact:  http://www.fresnobee.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/161
Author: Rory Appleton

COALINGA LEGALIZES MEDICAL MARIJUANA OPERATION

The Coalinga City Council voted 4-1 on Thursday to immediately allow
commercial marijuana cultivation within city limits.

Councilman Ron Lander cast the lone no vote. The ordinances required a
four-fifths majority to pass.

The council also approved the sale of the city's dormant prison,
Claremont Custody Center, to Ocean Grown Extracts for $4.1 million.
Ocean Grown will transform the prison into a medical cannabis oil
extraction plant.

This sale will immediately bring Coalinga's general fund into the
black. City Manager Marissa Trejo said Coalinga was $3.3 million to
$3.8 million in debt.

All 33 public seats in the Coalinga City Council chamber were filled
as the council voted on the ordinances. After six months of fierce
debate among the council and the city's residents, the audience was
silent when Coalinga Mayor Ron Ramsey asked for public comment.

"It's like the Grateful Dead said: 'What a long, strange trip it's
been,' " Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said in an interview
after the vote. "We listened to the citizens and created a package
that was reflective of our population."

Keough believes that the dozens of hours spent educating the community
on the medical marijuana industry has changed the small town's way of
thinking.

"You can never do anything that satisfies everyone," Keough said, "but
we were pretty darn close to doing that."

The vote ends a long journey to medical cannabis legalization for
Coalinga.

It's like the Grateful Dead said: 'What a long, strange trip it's
been.'

The City Council unanimously approved medical marijuana cultivation,
deliveries and dispensaries in January. The council backtracked
slightly after an outcry from church groups, community members, the
Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District and Fresno County Sheriff
Margaret Mims. After several months of special meetings and workshops
designed to educate residents about the medical cannabis industry, it
moved forward once more.

In March, the council began negotiating with medical cannabis oil
manufacturer Ocean Grown Extracts for a deal that would sell an empty
prison, the Claremont Custody Center, to the grower and allow it to
operate in Coalinga. The deal as first proposed would pay the city
around $2 million per year in rent and fees.

Later that month, the council voted 4-1 to create the ordinances
necessary to cultivate marijuana within the city. City Attorney David
Wolfe said it would take at least several months to draw up the new
laws.

A possible ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries --
businesses that actually sell cannabis to patients -- or deliveries to
patients within Coalinga could be discussed later. Both remain illegal
as of Thursday.

On June 23, Wolfe asked the council to approve urgency ordinances to
legalize cultivation immediately. It will take time to retrofit
Claremont into a cannabis oil manufacturing plant, he said. The
ordinances would also allow Ocean Grown to begin hiring for the 100
jobs it pledged to fill with local applicants.

Wolfe also expressed concern over Ocean Grown possibly lagging behind
other established cultivators, who are already beefing up their
operations in advance of a November ballot measure that would legalize
recreational marijuana use in California.

On Thursday, Ocean Grown was all smiles. Co-owner Casey Dalton said
she hopes the business will be up and running within six months.

"We're thrilled to be able to offer 100 jobs and make safe medicine
available for patients," she said. "We appreciate Coalinga taking a
chance not only on us, but on the industry."

Dalton said Ocean Grown received more than 200 applications from local
residents during a recent job fair for its proposed cultivation operation.

Fellow Ocean Grown owner Kelly Dalton, Casey's brother, said the
silent approval from the crowd showed that the community understands
that medical cannabis is a medicine.

"The truth of the plant is our best evidence," he said.

The language of the new ordinances lays out strict requirements for
Ocean Grown and any other companies interested in cultivating
marijuana in Coalinga.

The owner must assume liability for the operation, meaning it would be
solely responsible if the facility has any legal entanglements with
individuals, law enforcement agencies or the U.S. government.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

All employees and private contractors must pass a background check and
receive a permit from the city in order to work at a cultivation site.
The owner must keep all of this on file with the Coalinga Police Department.

The facility must be gated, locked and closed to the public. It must
have 24-hour video surveillance, and the Police Department must have
full access to video feeds.

Cultivation operations cannot post signage. They must also take odor
control steps to keep any cannabis smell from escaping.

Electronic tracking devices must be fixed to all cannabis
plants.

The operations must be in full compliance with all building and fire
safety codes. All requirements must be checked off by the police
chief, fire chief and city planner at least 60 days before opening.

Permits can be revoked if a business owner is not compliant. That
owner can appeal any punishment with the City Council.

The ordinances also establish a property tax that will pay the city
$25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square
foot for any space after that for each medical marijuana cultivation.
Claremont is about 77,000 square feet, but the city kept a portion of
the prison grounds.

The new laws also note one potential snag for medical marijuana
cultivators: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation wrote the city a letter
saying it will report Coalinga should any water be directed to the
facility.

Wolfe said the city believes it is a lawful use of water, but it will
deny Ocean Grown or any other cultivator city water should the federal
government threaten to shut off the supply. He said the city would
work with Ocean Grown to find a new water supply should this happen,
but its new laws do not require the city to provide cultivators with
water.

According to the Huron City Council's monthly agenda, the council
heard a medical marijuana presentation July 6. Lake Tahoe defense
attorney Jacqueline Mittelstadt and Dr. Douglas Kerr explained why
patients use medical cannabis.

Huron City Manager Jack Castro said the city has made no decision to
move forward. It is still compiling information.

Huron is about 20 miles east of Coalinga in Fresno County.
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