HANFORD – Conservative-leaning Kings County has a reputation for being anti-marijuana.
For evidence, consider the fact that Hanford and Lemoore have adopted stringent anti-marijuana regulations to prepare for the potential passage of Proposition 64, the ballot measure that would legalize weed for recreational use if it passes on Tuesday.
These regulations were added to existing bans on outdoor medical marijuana cultivation and any kind of medical marijuana dispensaries in city limits.
Marijuana used for medical purposes is legal in California with a doctor’s recommendation, but whether or not to allow dispensaries is subject to local control.
You could also take into account the fact that most law enforcement officials in Kings, including District Attorney Keith Fagundes, are against pot legalization.
But based on interviews with three Kings County residents, the views of local citizens don’t necessarily square with the conservative stereotype.
Take, for instance, Nathan Odom, a 26-year-old Hanford resident in favor of legalization.
For starters, Odom says said he knows local farmers and other “conservative people” who smoke weed occasionally but keep quiet about it publicly.
Odom spoke out recently about what he sees as the broad medical benefits of marijuana at a Hanford City Council meeting.
He said in an interview that he’s undecided on Prop. 64 because he fears that tax money raised from legalized marijuana businesses won’t go to education. He also thinks the proposition might favor large corporate interests and push out small pot growers.
But as far as legalization in general is concerned, he’s all for it.
Odom said that one of the reasons he spoke out was to represent “millennials,” the generation born roughly from 1982 to 2002.
Odom is concerned that younger people are leaving Kings County because they perceive it as backward. He thinks that’s creating a “brain drain” that is keeping the bachelor’s degree attainment rate below 10 percent in Kings County.
Odom sees the marijuana restrictions adopted in Hanford and Lemoore as being out of sync with millennials’ views.
“Millennials are so in favor of [legalization],” he said. “One of the big issues in town is, millennials run off when they get the chance. This is just another thing to push them away.”
“If we put a lot of heavy-handed local regulations in place … we’re just going to end up with a lot of infants and old folks in Kings County,” he said.
Odom said he doesn’t think the marijuana plant should be classified as a federal Schedule 1 illegal drug alongside cocaine and heroin.
He cited not only potential medical applications for cannabis, but also industrial uses such as rope, automobile dashboard panels and clothing.
“It’s been growing on the Earth a lot longer than we’ve been putting laws on paper,” Odom said. “It’s one of the most versatile plants in the world.”
Talk to Hanford resident and longtime Roman Catholic Tomas Tafolla, and you’ll hear a viewpoint that’s not exactly the same as Odom’s.
Then again, Tafolla, a former school teacher, isn’t that far removed.
Tafolla drew the same distinction between older and younger generations and shifting attitudes.
“I’m part of that Nancy Reagan ‘Say no to drugs’ generation,” said Tafolla, who is 45 years old. “When I think of marijuana, I think of stoners in the back of a van.”
Tafolla remembers running Red Ribbon Week back when he was a school teacher.
Red Ribbon Week is a nationally run drug prevention program in October that includes activities designed to get students to reject the use of any substance defined by the federal government as illegal, including marijuana.
Tafolla thinks attitudes are changing, not least because he thinks marijuana use is becoming “so commonplace now.”
“It’s not a big deal anymore,” he said.
Tafolla said he’s encountered people smoking pot in some seemingly unlikely public places, including in a line of people waiting to get into Magic Mountain a few years ago.
“Definitely, the perception is changing,” he said.
Tafolla thinks changing attitudes are the reason Prop. 64’s passage is a lot more likely now than the last time Californians voted on pot legalization in 2010.
In that election, the legalization proposal on the ballot went down to defeat handily, losing 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.
In this election, according to the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, 55 percent of likely voters in the state support Prop. 64.
Tafolla noted that, in Catholic teaching, there’s no specific prohibition against marijuana use. Neither, he noted, is there a ban against using tobacco products or drinking alcoholic beverages.
Tafolla’s understanding of Catholic teaching is that the body is created by God and should be treated with respect and not abused.
“I think [marijuana] itself is probably no worse than some other [drugs] that are already legal,” he said.
“Catholics who are younger are looking at it in a whole different way,” Tafolla said. “The evil aspect of it has been stripped away slowly. When it comes to the way Catholics perceive it, I do think it’s generational.”
Lemoore resident John Cardwell said he’s seen a shift in his own thinking on the subject — a shift that he wouldn’t necessarily have predicted.
“I’m actually surprised by my own opinion,” said the retired correctional officer. “Five years ago, I would have been flat out, ‘No way.’ ”
“My feeling is, I’m going to vote to legalize it,” Cardwell said.
Cardwell compared the current situation with marijuana to the era of national Prohibition, when alcoholic beverages were illegal and criminal enterprises expanded to provide them to willing consumers.
Cardwell sees criminal organizations making a “killing” off of providing illegal marijuana to consumers. He thinks Prop. 64 might put a dent in that.
Cardwell also said he’s influenced by the argument that legalizing weed and taxing it would provide more money for local government, including law enforcement, to pursue other priorities he sees as more important than going after marijuana.
Cardwell thinks it would free up law enforcement to go after illegal substance he sees as worse: methamphetamine, heroin and prescription opioid abuse.
Cardwell said that during a stint with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy, he noticed a lot of people ending up in jail for offences that stemmed from their meth addiction.
“Just tax [marijuana] and make some money,” Cardwell said. “They’re growing it everywhere anyway.”