The Coalinga City Council voted 4-1 on Thursday to immediately allow commercial marijuana cultivation within city limits.
Councilman Ron Lander cast the lone no vote. The ordinances required a four-fifths majority to pass.
The council also approved the sale of the city’s dormant prison, Claremont Custody Center, to Ocean Grown Extracts for $4.1 million. Ocean Grown will transform the prison into a medical cannabis oil extraction plant.
This sale will immediately bring Coalinga’s general fund into the black. City Manager Marissa Trejo said Coalinga was $3.3 million to $3.8 million in debt.
All 33 public seats in the Coalinga City Council chamber were filled as the council voted on the ordinances. After six months of fierce debate among the council and the city’s residents, the audience was silent when Coalinga Mayor Ron Ramsey asked for public comment.
“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’ ” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said in an interview after the vote. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”
Keough believes that the dozens of hours spent educating the community on the medical marijuana industry has changed the small town’s way of thinking.
“You can never do anything that satisfies everyone,” Keough said, “but we were pretty darn close to doing that.”
The vote ends a long journey to medical cannabis legalization for Coalinga.
The City Council unanimously approved medical marijuana cultivation, deliveries and dispensaries in January. The council backtracked slightly after an outcry from church groups, community members, the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
After several months of special meetings and workshops designed to educate residents about the medical cannabis industry, it moved forward once more. In March, the council began negotiating with medical cannabis oil manufacturer Ocean Grown Extracts for a deal that would sell an empty prison, the Claremont Custody Center, to the grower and allow it to operate in Coalinga. The deal as first proposed would pay the city around $2 million per year in rent and fees. Later that month, the council voted 4-1 to create the ordinances necessary to cultivate marijuana within the city.
City Attorney David Wolfe said it would take at least several months to draw up the new laws. A possible ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries – businesses that actually sell cannabis to patients – or deliveries to patients within Coalinga could be discussed later. Both remain illegal as of Thursday. On June 23, Wolfe asked the council to approve urgency ordinances to legalize cultivation immediately. It will take time to retrofit Claremont into a cannabis oil manufacturing plant, he said.
The ordinances would also allow Ocean Grown to begin hiring for the 100 jobs it pledged to fill with local applicants.Wolfe also expressed concern over Ocean Grown possibly lagging behind other established cultivators, who are already beefing up their operations in advance of a November ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana use in California.