HANFORD — The Hanford City Council voted 5-0 Wednesday night in favor of a new ordinance to allow commercial medical marijuana businesses to come to south Hanford, but some residents think the council is moving too fast with its decision.

The vote overturns a previous ordinance that prohibited any commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, production or distribution in the city.

The unanimous vote came after several Hanford residents and others spoke for and against the new ordinance.

Dave Robinson, Kings County Sheriff, has been a staunch advocate against bringing the cannabis business to Hanford. He told council Wednesday night that marijuana is still federally illegal, and it is not right that permits could be issued that clearly violate federal law.

“This is a substance that draws criminal activity,” Robinson said. “These may all be great businesses, but it’s still an illegal substance.”

Robinson said the city could wait until federal law changes or even let residents vote on the issue in November 2018. Either way, he asked council to slow the process down and think about what is best for residents.

Most who spoke in favor of the cannabis businesses were members of the cannabis businesses themselves, including employees of Caliva and Genezen LLC.

Caliva wants to locate a 400,000-square-foot cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution operation in the industrial park, while Genezen is proposing to bring a facility to the industrial park that would eventually occupy 1.65 million square feet.

Caliva CEO Larry Thacker affirmed to council the company’s commitment to bringing the cannabis business to Hanford in the right way by making it a regulated industry and something that can benefit the city through employment and tax revenue.

Randi Knott, spokeswoman for Genezen, assured the council that the businesses that want to come into the city are wholesale businesses that are willing to be regulated and allow for local control.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata reminded council that they have been working on the marijuana issue for almost a year, after Purple Heart expressed interest in locating inside the former Pirelli tire plant.

Several medical cannabis businesses expressed strong interest in locating in Hanford, which led city staff on a path of investigating large-scale cannabis facilities and how they would fit in the city.

The Hanford Planning Commission voted 7-0 in June to recommend the City Council approve an ordinance change allowing such businesses to locate in the city's heavy industrial zone. Nearly the entire zone is in non-residential areas south of Houston Avenue.

The only change the Planning Commission asked for was that medical cannabis businesses be at least 500 feet from residential areas and at least 1,500 feet from youth facilities.

The new ordinance establishes a conditional use permit application process that includes detailed security requirements for such businesses and includes cost-recovery provisions requiring the companies that come in to reimburse the city for additional law enforcement costs associated with policing the facilities.

The new ordinance also maintains the city's ban on any medical marijuana dispensaries. Any product eventually produced by commercial growing/manufacturing cannabis businesses in Hanford will be shipped out of town.

In addressing the comments against the new ordinance, Councilman Justin Mendes reiterated the fact that recreational marijuana use is now legal in the state. He said he sees the cannabis businesses as a revenue stream for the city only, regardless of the morality of marijuana use.

The rest of the council, including Mayor David Ayers, Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen, and Councilmen Martin Devine and Francisco Ramirez said they thought city staff did its due diligence on the issue and they look forward to the revenue the businesses could bring to Hanford.

"I think our staff did such a good job of showing how we're going to regulate this," Mendes said Thursday.

Mendes said the main attraction is a tax measure Hanford residents will vote in November of next year to generate possibly millions of dollars in revenue for the city’s general fund from any medical cannabis businesses that come into town.

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.

“I am very pleased with the vote and the confidence the city council has placed in Caliva,” Thacker said, reached by phone Thursday. “We’re committed to working with the city to make this program a success.”

If things continue to move forward, Mata said some of the permits could be processed and issued prior to Dec. 31, meaning cannabis companies could possibly come to Hanford sometime in 2018.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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