HANFORD – The push to allow medical cannabis growing/manufacturing businesses to come to Hanford has cleared its first potential roadblock.

The Hanford Planning Commission voted 7-0 this week to recommend that the City Council approve an ordinance change allowing such businesses to locate in the city's heavy industrial zone.

Nearly all of the zone is in non-residential areas south of Houston Avenue.

Commissioners present and voting were Angel Vee Galvan, Savino Perico, Dennis Ham, Ajmer Nahal, Richard Douglas, Michael Johnston and Travis Paden.

"I think it's a great opportunity for our community for employment," Perico said in an interview. "It's potentially going to employ 1,500 people starting with two companies, and maybe more."

None of the other commissioners could be reached Thursday for comment.

Larry Thacker, CEO of Caliva, praised the commission's decision.

"I think the [heavy industrial zone] is an area that creates the least impact on the overall community," Thacker said. "I think it will bring an increase in business opportunities into the [Kings] Industrial Park."

Kings Industrial Park is an 1,100-acre business park south of Houston that isn't fully occupied.

Caliva wants to locate a 400,000 square-foot cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution operation in the industrial park.

With their 7-0 vote, commissioners accepted Community Development Director Darlene Mata's recommendation that the ordinance change be approved.

The commission did recommend a couple of tweaks.

Instead of requiring that medical cannabis businesses be at least 600 feet from schools, the commission recommended the distance be increased to at least 1,500 feet.

The commission also recommended that the minimum setback from residential areas be increased from 200 feet to 500 feet.

Mata said in an interview that most if not all of the heavy industrial zone already complies with the commission's increased distance recommendations.

The commission's action is the first step toward the city having a full-blown medical marijuana business ordinance in place regulating all aspects of the proposed operations.

The ordinance will cover everything from security measures to exactly how the businesses will reimburse the city for law enforcement and other costs incurred by city staff to regulate the businesses.

The City Council has made it clear that no medical marijuana shops, or dispensaries, will be allowed in Hanford.

That means that any product eventually produced by commercial growing/manufacturing businesses in Hanford will be shipped out of town.

Mata said the full set of regulations could go before the City Council for approval as early as July.

"The ordinance looks good," Perico said. "The City Council gets a lot of control [over] the companies that come in."

Once that happens, the city could start taking applications and potentially issue operating permits.

As part of the package, Caliva and any other medical cannabis businesses wanting to come to Hanford will probably have to pay a special medical cannabis tax.

The tax, which Hanford residents could approve in the November 2018 election, could generate millions annually for the city's cash-strapped general fund, according to Thacker.

City officials are working with industry figures and an outside contractor to try to develop a tax that generates sufficient revenue but is not so burdensome that it would deter the businesses from operating in Hanford.

The tax is partly intended to offset any concerns Hanford residents might have regarding the presence of medical marijuana businesses in the city.

Caliva isn't the only company to express interest in Hanford.

A firm called Genezen LLC is proposing to bring a facility to the industrial park that, at full buildout, would occupy 1.65 million square feet.

Mata said two smaller proposals have been made by other companies, but she declined to name them.

If the City Council approves the new regulations in July, the next step is to decide how many permits will be made available initially.

At that point, businesses would submit formal applications which would be reviewed by Mata and her staff.

The City Council would have to formally approve any operating permits before they are issued.

In addition, businesses will be required to get operating permits from the state, which will add an additional layer of regulation.

Final state rules for industrial medical cannabis businesses are set to be released on Jan. 1, 2018.

Sometime after that, businesses would be able to apply for a state operating permit.

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

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