SAN JOSE – To see the potential future of Hanford's struggling industrial business park, you need to travel a couple hundred miles north to a big industrial building in a tough-looking part of San Jose.

The sign says "Caliva." There's a big green cross on it.

If you weren't paying attention, you'd miss the discreet marijuana plant leaf at the end of the "a" in "Caliva."

Inside the walls lies a vertically-integrated medical cannabis operation that goes all the way from young plants to finished product sold in the on-site dispensary.

To get past the front door, you have to be 21, you have to have a doctor's recommendation for medical pot and you need a valid picture ID.

And that will only get you into the dispensary.

Due to security precautions, members of the public don't see what goes on in the rest of the building. That's where the picture emerges of what Caliva wants to do in Hanford.

Caliva CEO Larry Thacker has already convinced San Jose leaders that his operation is the model for the future when it comes to the kind of facility regulators want to see in California.

Now he's on a mission to do the same with leaders in Hanford.

Thacker has already taken Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever and Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle on a tour of the San Jose site.

Thacker is well-aware of the skepticism in Hanford toward marijuana of any kind, including medical marijuana.

He's determined to allay any fears that might be out there about exactly what Hanford is in for if and when Caliva comes to town.

Showing people the San Jose site goes a long way toward achieving his goal.

Security starts at the front door, where a guard sits in a booth. You have to submit a valid ID to prove that you are 21. The guard then buzzes the door open to let you into the lobby.

Once there, employees cross-check your doctor recommendation with a computer database to make sure it's valid.

You then can enter the dispensary to purchase products.

What Caliva is proposing for Hanford would leave out the dispensary part, since Hanford City Council members have clearly signaled they don't want retail sales in Hanford.

Caliva wants to build 400,000 square feet of building space to become the nucleus of a cultivation/manufacturing/distribution hub that will serve dispensaries up and down the state.

It would be a significantly bigger and higher-tech version of what Caliva is already doing in San Jose.

To help clear up any misgivings, Thacker is almost eager to be regulated, not only by local entities like Hanford but also by the state. The state is currently in the process of developing rules for the industry. They're expected to be finalized early next year.

With a draft version already circulating, Thacker isn't waiting around. He's already done much of what is being proposed.

The state is proposing complex regulations to precisely monitor and track operations. The goal is to ensure that the businesses are free of fraud, theft, illicit sales and that the product is free of bacterial contamination.

With a long background of work in the well-regulated specialty pharmacy industry, Thacker has implemented the same procedures, checks and controls that he learned before he came to Caliva.

Thacker admitted that bad actors in the medical pot industry, which has been operating in California since 1996, have tarnished its reputation.

He said California fell behind the eight ball when it came to regulation.

"Now they need to bring a whole industry into compliance," he said.

Thacker's argument to bring skeptics on board starts with the issue of security, which is usually the first concern expressed in Hanford.

There's millions of dollars of potential product in the San Jose building at a time. Caliva has taken precautions to protect it.

They have a security team monitoring cameras 24/7 - cameras Thacker said monitor every square inch of the property inside and out.

Thacker said police and other government officials regularly tour the site to check for compliance. Employees are carefully screened with full background checks.

Sever said he came away from the tour with a favorable impression.

"I thought it was a very professionally run facility," he said. "It's a very secure facility."

At a city council meeting earlier this year, Sever went so far as to call Caliva the "Cadillac" of medical marijuana manufacturing facilities.

Sever said he wants to make sure medical pot operations don't "become a burden on the city."

Thacker hits on the same theme.

Caliva is willing to pay a special medical cannabis tax that could bring millions of dollars a year into Hanford coffers.

Thacker said Caliva and other medical cannabis businesses in San Jose are already bringing the city $4 million a year in revenue.

He estimates that, at full build out in Hanford, Caliva's operation alone will generate at least $10 million a year – money that can be used for needed city projects.

He estimated medical cannabis will be a $20 billion industry in California.

Thacker said that the tax is a cost of doing business that'll help weed out inefficient, poorly run operations.

The coming state regulations are expected to intensify and accelerate the process.

Thacker said the state will literally bar-code each plant and track how much product is reported from it.

In the end, he figures medical cannabis will be one of the most regulated industries in the state, right up there with alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.

"One of the things I like is, we have an opportunity to change perceptions," he said.

Thacker said he likes the local rules Hanford is in the process of developing to govern businesses like Caliva.

There are other things he likes about Hanford, too, besides the cheap real estate and the location midway between Southern California and the Bay Area.

He's attracted to the agricultural expertise in the San Joaquin Valley.

For example, Caliva uses a state-of-the-art drip watering system incorporating dissolved nutrients that are delivered directly to the root zone. The system came from IDC, a Patterson-based precision irrigation company.

Caliva's interest in Hanford site is also driven by something else the Valley is known for: abundant sunshine.

In the same way that solar power providers are attracted to the San Joaquin Valley, Caliva wants to construct buildings with translucent roofs that transmit sunlight to grow the plants and save on the power bill.

Thacker remains hopeful that Caliva's Hanford proposal will come to fruition.

"We're confident that we can move it through," he said.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

Load comments