HANFORD – One by one, Kings County jurisdictions are taking steps to crack down on the potential legalization of recreational marijuana – and the idea hasn't even gone before voters yet in the form of Proposition 64.
Local cities are adopting every legal ordinance they can think of to restrict it – banning dispensaries, banning delivery services, banning outdoor grows – so that if and when it happens, it won't be welcome locally.
The reason for the scramble to adopt the new rules?
Chalk it up to a very conservative culture that's never been friendly to cannabis and isn't about to start now.
"To each their own in their own jurisdiction, but I do know that in our jurisdiction, we're still a very conservative region, and we want to protect what we have," said Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson.
Robinson has been telling everybody who will listen that Prop. 64 is a bad idea.
He's got a receptive audience among other local elected officials.
For Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes, the strong support for Prop. 64 in cities and counties along the coast of California changes dramatically as you move inland.
"The Bay Area and Los Angeles, they are our major concerns," he said. "The eastern side of the state tends to be more conservative."
Like others familiar with the prevailing sentiment in Kings, Fagundes figures Prop. 64 has little chance of passing locally.
However, according to statewide polling recently conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 60 percent of likely voters support legalization.
If Prop. 64 does become law, what are the odds that groups operating out of more liberal areas of the state such as the Bay Area and Southern California will challenge restrictive local ordinances? And what are the chances that those legal challenges could succeed?
According to Hanford City Attorney Ty Mizote, a successful legal challenge is unlikely.
Mizote noted the failure of legal efforts to overturn restrictions that local jurisdictions placed on medical marijuana in recent years such as banning dispensaries within city limits.
Medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996.
Mizote said that courts have generally upheld local jurisdictions' right to make land use decisions regulating the use of medical marijuana. That includes the right to ban dispensaries outright within a city or a county.
Hanford Mayor Justin Mendes said that in talking to Hanford residents, he's heard "a lot of opposition to recreational [marijuana]."
Mendes said people are conflating arguments against recreational marijuana with a recent group's proposal to locate a large medical marijuana cultivation and processing facility in the industrial park south of Hanford.
"I think it's just because everybody is a little bit nervous about how accessible it's going to become," Mendes said. "All of their complaints are about recreational [use]. They're saying, 'I don't want it close to my house.'"
According to Mizote, if Prop. 64 goes into effect, indoor growing in Hanford would probably have to be allowed, although the city would still have the ability to regulate it to a certain extent.
According to Robinson, the response of Kings County cities is similar to the way municipalities in conservative parts of Colorado responded just before that state legalized recreational pot in 2014.
Robinson said that some Colorado towns did the same thing Kings County, Lemoore and Hanford have done: They adopted anti-recreational marijuana ordinances before legalization took effect.
"There are going to be many jurisdictions in California that say, 'No, we don't want this,'" Robinson said.