HANFORD – How much pot-related business activity will there be in Hanford now that recreational weed is legal in California?
The Hanford City Council is trying to figure that out.
All kinds of marijuana-related businesses are calling the city asking what is and isn't allowed, according to Darlene Mata, Hanford's community development director.
"There are just a whole bunch of calls that we're getting," Mata said. "Most of them have been related to commercial [operations]."
Currently, there is only one proposal up for consideration in the city: a Bay Area medical marijuana dispensary called Purple Heart that wants to put a large cultivation/processing operation into the old Pirelli tire plant south of town.
In November last year, a majority of the council – Justin Mendes, Francisco Ramirez and David Ayers - directed city staff to move forward with changing city ordinances to make that happen.
Hanford ordinances prohibit commercial grows and marijuana product sales. The only thing that's allowed in city limits is cultivating up to six plants indoors per household for personal use.
In November, Mendes, Ramirez and Ayers indicated they didn't want dispensaries in Hanford. All of the Purple Heart product grown in Hanford would be shipped out of town for sale elsewhere.
Mata said that in recent weeks, she's gotten inquiries from dispensaries representatives who want to come to town.
She said some expressed disappointment when they heard about the restrictions.
"They say, 'Why aren't they going to allow dispensaries when they are moving forward with the idea of allowing it to be grown [commercially]?'" Mata said. "I get that question a lot."
However, three council members interviewed for this story – Mendes, Ramirez and Sue Sorensen – indicated they might be willing to give the green light to one or more retail operations at some point.
Councilmen David Ayers and Martin Devine couldn't be immediately reached Thursday for comment.
"The main factor is, this is very new, and as Police Chief [Parker Sever] has indicated, the industry is notorious for having compliance issues," Mendes said. "I think it's a 'We'll see as we go.' We're going through Marijuana 101 right now."
Mendes said he wants to see how the Purple Heart operation works out before he considers allowing retail sales.
"Let's take bites at the elephant here," he said.
Ramirez said he's against recreational sales but would like to see medical pot dispensaries in town. He's convinced that it can be used to treat some types of cancer as well as other illnesses.
"Honestly, I would support a [medical] dispensary as of right now," he said.
New council member Sue Sorensen, who took office in December, said she's not leaning toward allowing dispensaries in town.
"I'm not excited about legal marijuana," she said. "I have eight grandkids, and it's hard enough fighting off alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs out there."
Sorensen is concerned about the potentially negative impacts of recreational marijuana use.
"I think there's still a lot to understand," she said. "It's a good idea that we take the time as a council to make an informed decision."
However, Sorensen said she might be willing to put the dispensary idea up for a vote by Hanford residents.
The council is already planning to put a measure on the November 2018 ballot asking the city's voters if they want to impose a square-footage tax on the Purple Heart operation. Revenues would go into the city's general fund and could be used for multiple needs.
Sorensen said the dispensary question could be placed on the same November 2018 general election ballot.
"Dispensaries could be part of the vote, absolutely," she said.