HANFORD — How much is too much? As Hanford prepares to dive head-first into the cannabis business, the City Council decided how many cannabis permits the city is willing to take on.
Council approved a resolution that established the application procedures, fees, forms and permits for the commercial medical cannabis industry.
As opposed to the council meeting on July 5, where there were plenty of comments from the public against cannabis, only a few people spoke Tuesday night against bringing the cannabis businesses to the city.
The July 5 vote to allow commercial medical marijuana businesses to locate in Hanford’s Industrial Park solidified the Council’s intent to move forward, despite criticism from the Kings County Sheriff and city residents.
Community Development Director Darlene Mata said the application period for interested cannabis businesses is anticipated to begin Aug. 2 and go through Oct. 2, after which no more applications will be accepted. After receiving all the applications, city staff will conduct a three-phase review process.
Mata said the first phase in the application process is preliminary and will include background checks and criminal history. The second phase includes ranking each submitted application according to location and its individual business, neighborhood compatibility, safety and security, air quality, labor and employment plans.
Only the applicants who receive 80 percent or more on the city’s scoring scale will move on to the third phase, Mata said. The third phase includes another ranking system based on community benefits, enhanced project safety and environmental benefits.
The scores from the second and third phases will be combined and the top applicants will be forwarded to City Manager Darrel Pyle, Mata said. From there, Pyle will take the applicant recommendations to the council for final approval and awarding of permits.
The original recommendation from the city as to how many permits would be allowed for freestanding facilities was two permits for each of the following categories: cultivation, manufacturing, lab testing and distribution. A total of eight freestanding facility permits.
The city staff also recommended allowing a maximum of three “cannabis campuses,” which could obtain up to five individual permits in its first year. A total of 15 individual permits across the three campuses.
A freestanding facility is a single building with a single address, with its own secured entry and parking lot that operates within its own property; whereas a campus is a property that houses several operations or businesses with leases on different buildings, but maintaining a shared secured entry.
The total number of individual permits came out to 23, but with each campus needing to obtain an overall permit for itself as well, the grand total of permits was 26, as recommended by city staff.
Mata recommended a limited number of permits because until a tax measure Hanford residents are to vote on in November 2018 is passed, the city will only receive business license taxes from the cannabis businesses.
If the tax measure is passed by Hanford voters, it could generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city’s general fund from medical cannabis businesses that come into town.
Other reasons Mata gave for limiting the number of permits were the limited power to service large scale cultivation operations, limited staff capacity to process cannabis permits, conditional use permits and environmental documents, and the unknown impacts to city staff, law enforcement and the community in regulating the industry.
“Let’s start smaller and grow into this industry as we proceed,” Mata told council. “At 26 [permits], it’s pushing the capacity of staff.”
Some members of the council, including Councilmen Justin Mendes, Francisco Ramirez and Martin Devine suggested either limiting the total number of permits or campuses even further to err on the side of caution.
Randi Knott, spokeswoman for Genezen LLC — the only cannabis company proposing a campus at this time — agreed with the councilmen, saying the city can’t be too sure about whether companies would even want to be freestanding facilities.
After much debate, it was decided to amend the resolution to reflect the number of freestanding permits to remain the same at eight, but to only have two cannabis campuses with eight individual permits each.
Including the two overall campus permits, the total number of permits was once again 26.
The vote was approved unanimously.
Because the number of permits was brought to council as a resolution, council could change the number of permits allowed in the future as it deems fit.