HANFORD – Now that recreational pot is legal in California, what will be the effect on local businesses?

For businesses that might be interested in selling products containing marijuana, that's currently a no-go in Hanford.

Existing ordinances prohibit any kind of commercial marijuana sales in city limits.

If Hanford changed the rules and allowed sales, how many local businesses would take advantage of the opportunity to profit off of legalization?

Some of the shops in Hanford that sell bongs and vaping equipment probably would.

"If it's legal, why not?" said Rad Alkobadi, co-owner of Sal's Tobacco and More at 110 N. 11th Ave. near IHOP. 

Sal's sells a huge variety of glass bongs used for smoking pot. It also sells "stash cans" designed to conceal marijuana. Some are made to look exactly like cans of soda and canisters of potato chips.

Alkobadi estimated there could be 10 or more smoke shops in Hanford and Lemoore that might be interested in selling pot products.

Many, including Sal's, also sell liquids used for vaping.

The liquids can be manufactured to contain THC, the psychoactive component of pot.

Alkobadi said he's seen smoke shops in other parts of the state that already have marijuana-containing products on display in advance of the state issuing licenses to sell the products.

Those licenses are expected to be offered started in 2018.

Alkobadi said that if he could, he'd probably have a small section offering marijuana products alongside the bongs.

"If it's allowed, sure," said Salah Alkobadi, also a co-owner of Sal's, which has two locations in Hanford and one in Dinuba.

The other Hanford location is in the Fargo Crossing shopping center at 11th and Fargo avenues.

"I would recommend that the city allow it [to be sold]," Salah Alkobadi said. "It would mean more money for the city."

He's convinced that even if Hanford's elected officials don't lift the ban on commercial sales, more people will be using marijuana in general - however they obtain it - and that will help him sell more bongs and other marijuana-related products.

Suleman Lakhani, owner of Hanford Cigarette Depot, said he'd consider selling pot products if it were legal to do so in Hanford.

"I would wait until it becomes totally legal in every aspect," Lakhani said.

But Lakhani said he'd poll customers first to make sure they were OK with it.

He wonders if it might scare off some of his older customers who come in for cigarettes.

"I think my store's image would go down if I carried it," Lakhani said. "That's what it feels like. We want to keep it a cigarette store, not a head shop."

Meanwhile, though you can't legally buy recreational pot in Hanford, it is now legal everywhere in California to grow a few plants indoors and smoke marijuana in the privacy of your home.

You are also allowed to carry up to one ounce in your pocket or in your vehicle.

Given the current limitation on businesses selling pot, the biggest impact on employers and employees locally is likely to revolve around the question of what kind of restrictions businesses can impose on their workers when it comes to smoking or ingesting THC, according to Mario Zamora, an attorney with Griswold LaSalle in Hanford.

Zamora said clients have been asking questions about different scenarios.

For example, in the case of companies that do random drug testing, what if they find THC in a worker's system even though the worker has never been high at work?

Zamora gave the example of an industrial accident where a worker's compensation agency found THC in an employee's system in drug testing after the accident.

Zamora said questions are being asked about testing procedures, how accurate they are and how well they can determine how impaired somebody was at a particular point in time.

"Marijuana stays in the system for a long time," he said. "We're talking about that. There has to be a test that shows that they were under the influence at the time, rather than it just being in their system. The testing has to catch up to the current situation."

He said testing accuracy issues could also crop up in DUI scenarios.

Zamora emphasized that employers continue to have the right to regulate the use of substances such as alcohol and marijuana if using them affects job performance.

"You can't be impaired on the job," he said.

Zamora said it's possible, after the state starts issuing commercial licenses to sell in 2018, that Hanford leaders could change their minds and allow commercial sales.

"What do residents want, now that it's legal?" he said. 

"I don't think Hanford is ready for [sales] yet," Lakhani said. "Maybe in a couple of years. I think people's perception is changing."

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

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