HANFORD – The Hanford City Council has decided to wait until at least November 2018 to consider issuing a conditional use permit for a large medical marijuana growing/processing business to locate in Hanford.

Members of the council came to that decision Tuesday night during a discussion of whether the council should put a medical marijuana tax on the ballot for voters to decide on.

Purple Heart Patient Center, a medical marijuana dispensary operation based in Oakland, has proposed a medical marijuana growing and processing business for the 1 million square-foot former Pirelli Tire plant in Kings Industrial Park in south Hanford.

The proposal calls for filling most of the building with growing and processing operations. Purple Heart also wants to construct 871,000 square feet of outdoor greenhouses at the site.

Purple Heart officials estimate that, at full build-out, the business could bring the city 1,115 full-time jobs and $14 million in annual tax revenue.

The only way for the city to collect that revenue, which city officials want to use for general fund purposes, is for Hanford voters to approve a medical marijuana tax on the November 2018 ballot.

State law requires that general purpose tax proposals have to be approved by voters during a general election. The next one isn't until November 2018.

That was the question before council members on Tuesday night: Do they want to consider issuing a permit to Purple Heart before November 2018, or do they want to wait until after November 2018 to see what voters decide?

The unanimous answer, based on a show of hands by all five council members, was that they want to wait.

"We were kind of only entertaining the Purple Heart proposal because it was going to generate millions [in tax revenue] toward the city's general fund," said Councilman Justin Mendes in an interview. "That is the only benefit to the city."

Mendes said the tax could be used to build new parks, construct a new police station or support a downtown revitalization program.

Early in the council discussion Tuesday night, Councilwoman Sue Sorensen expressed concerns that delaying the permit until after November 2018 could scare Purple Heart away and cause the city to lose out on the chance of finally bringing a large, revenue-generating business to the former Pirelli plant, which has been mostly vacant since 2001.

Sorensen eventually came around to Mendes' position, as did Mayor David Ayers, who had expressed concerns similar to Sorensen's.

Niccolo De Luca, a Purple Heart spokesman, said Wednesday the dispensary would keep working with Hanford city officials to move the project forward.

"We've had a great working relationship with the city," De Luca said. "We look forward to continuing a really strong working relationship."

Sorensen said in an interview that she was persuaded by comments Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever made at Tuesday's meeting. Sever talked about the unknown costs for officers to police the Purple Heart facility.

Sever said he met with medical marijuana industry experts this week and got the impression from them that growing/processing facilities are "really bad on compliance."

If voters fail to approve the tax in November 2018, Purple Heart – assuming it still wants to move forward with the proposal – would be subject to the same taxes and fees that all wholesale businesses in Hanford are subject to.

Sorensen and others on the council said they don't know if that would generate enough money to pay for the increased policing and other costs they expect will be associated with the facility, let alone bring extra revenue into the city's general fund.

Mendes said he's confident that Purple Heart will stick around.

"From a business perspective, there aren't too many 1 million square-foot buildings close to Highway 198 and halfway between Interstate 5 and Highway 99," he said at Tuesday night's meeting. "I am comfortable myself in taking the risk of waiting until [November] 2018."

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

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