HANFORD – The Hanford City Council directed staff this week to begin crafting an ordinance that would eventually allow large-scale medical marijuana cultivation/manufacturing facilities to apply for a conditional use permit to locate in the city's heavy industrial zones.
Oakland-based Purple Heart Patient Center has proposed a large medical cannabis facility for the former Pirelli tire plant in the Hanford Business Park near 11th and Idaho avenues.
The proposal calls for 780,000 square feet of indoor growing and processing and 871,000 square feet of grow space in a greenhouse outside the Pirelli building.
Purple Heart would own the whole site, then lease part of it out to a variety of medical cannabis-related businesses.
Purple Heart Executive Director Keith Stephenson has estimated there will be 1,115 full-time jobs at full capacity starting at $15 an hour and going up to $80,000 to $100,000 for "senior management." Stephenson forecasts $14 million in annual tax revenue for Hanford.
Stephenson said in an interview that he's pleased "the City Council gave staff direction to move forward."
"I am committed to this project," he said. "I'm committed to the city of Hanford helping to create local and regional hiring and new tax revenue."
People interviewed for this story who attended Tuesday night's council meeting were supportive of going forward.
"I think one of the things they need to do is make the ordinance very, very strong," said Hanford resident Maria Galante.
Hanford resident Makenzie Hays wanted the city to go further and allow pot dispensaries in Hanford where people could go to buy cannabis products.
Weed dispensaries of any kind are forbidden in city limits.
"I do want to say I think it's a mistake not to allow [dispensaries]," Hays said at the meeting.
City leaders and officials are approaching the idea of commercial medical marijuana facilities cautiously.
In October, the council told Police Chief Parker Sever and Community Development Director Darlene Mata to find comparable facilities out-of-state and go on a fact-finding mission.
Sever and Mata reported their findings to the council this week based on three facilities they visited in Canada and one they visited in San Jose.
Their conclusion? The facilities were clean, well-run and well-organized from a security standpoint.
Mata said at the meeting that she was "impressed" by the people running the facilities.
"I would have to say those facilities are quality facilities," she said.
Mata said in an interview that the ordinance-crafting process would take at least until June 15, 2017, to complete, depending on whether the city has to do a full environmental impact report.
Mata said Stephenson needs to submit more detailed business plans before a determination can be made about whether the full report has to be done.
While expressing personal reservations about the potential for marijuana to lead to drug abuse, Sever said Tuesday night that if a facility similar to the ones he saw in Canada "is [allowed] in Hanford, I think it could be regulated."
Three council members – Mayor Justin Mendes, Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez and David Ayers – indicated their willingness for Mata to move forward carefully with the process of crafting a new ordinance.
The existing ordinance forbids commercial medical marijuana cultivation anywhere inside city limits.
"Quite frankly, it's a potential revenue stream," Mendes said in an interview. "Saying 'no' gives you zero revenue but you have all the social costs of recreational marijuana [anyway]."
Mendes was referring to Prop. 64, the ballot measure passed by voters that legalized recreational weed last week.
Ramirez was motivated by the prospect of bringing new jobs to the area and by the chance for the city to collect tax revenue.
"I want to see money for a new recreational facility in Hanford, and I want to see money for public safety since Measure K didn't pass," Ramirez said in an interview.
Measure K was a local public safety sales tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. With some provisional ballots left to county, Measure K was falling short of the 66.6 percent voter approval it needed to pass.
Mendes, Ramirez and Ayers made it clear that they don't want medical marijuana dispensaries in Hanford.
Ayers couldn't be immediately reached Wednesday for comment.
Councilman Russ Curry and Councilman Gary Pannett were not in favor of moving forward.
Curry couldn't be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Pannett said he wanted the city to wait and see what kind of industrial medical marijuana rules the state comes up with.
Those rules, to be implemented by the newly created California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, are set to be developed by Jan. 1, 2018.
Mendes said that Hanford can implement whatever local regulations city leaders want to impose on Purple Heart.
City Manager Darrel Pyle said that the state envisions local oversight and control happening first, followed by state regulations later that would require operators to abide by the rules established by local government.
"We have the ability to create the perfect conditions we want," Mendes said.