By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore City Council Chambers
Lemoore City Council Chambers

Could Lemoore’s leadership change its mind about marijuana? On Tuesday (May 7), the Lemoore City Council, during its 5:30 p.m. study session, will discuss a draft cannabis ordinance which, if eventually enacted, could allow the selling of marijuana within the city’s limits.

Other communities, including Lemoore’s neighbor, Hanford, are reevaluating the sale of marijuana within the city limits for recreational use. The Hanford City Council recently voted to allow two delivery dispensaries that would operate out of the city’s industrial park and two storefront dispensaries located in the city’s downtown improvement district.

A motivating factor for council members may well have been the ability to tax marijuana and boost the community’s coffers. In Hanford, storefront dispensaries would be subject to the double business licenses that all downtown businesses in Hanford pay, as well as a city cannabis business tax, approved by Hanford voters last year. Measure C established the special cannabis business tax to be paid by the city’s marijuana businesses. The city estimated that such a measure could generate $750,000 to $1 million annually in revenue.

It turns out Hanford’s voters liked the idea. They overwhelmingly voted yes on Measure C, passing it 72.17 percent to 27.83 percent, a vote that could convince Lemoore’s council members to change their tune regarding marijuana.

In 2016, the Lemoore City Council, responding to law enforcement recommendations to restrict marijuana use and anticipating the expected passage of Proposition 64 – known as the Adult Use Marijuana Act – voted 4-1 to limit the use of cannabis within city limits, including storefront dispensaries and the outdoor cultivation of marijuana.

The best Lemoore’s citizens can do currently is grow a limited number of plants in their homes – indoors.

Not all cities took the same stance as Lemoore. Lemoore’s neighbor to the west, Coalinga, also acted, but in a different direction, approving commercial marijuana cultivation within city limits including selling some of its property – the city’s dormant prison, Claremont Custody Center - to Ocean Grown Extracts for $4.1 million. Ocean Grown will turn the former facility into a medical cannabis oil extraction plant.

The first storefront cannabis business in the Valley opened in Woodlake in 2018. Voters there approved a ballot initiative giving the city a five percent excise on top of the sales tax. Most cities that allow marijuana sales have an excise tax of two to 10 percent.

The store, Valley Pure, sells recreational and medical marijuana. The Leader contacted Valley Pure’s manager, Wes Hardin, asking him if he had any plans to set up shop in Lemoore if city officials approve the storefront dispensaries.

He declined to discuss any communication with the City of Lemoore but told The Leader that he is looking forward to going anywhere where the community has accepted it.

Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson told The Leader that he had contacted local businesses about the viability of downtown recreational cannabis storefronts, and the response was positive. Olson said he talked to 50 individuals. “I was rather shocked,” he said. “We had 48 that did not oppose it and only two that opposed it.”

Council gave the go-ahead recently to revisit the issue, hence Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. study session. City leaders are also seeking more input from the community and civic leaders. The city’s planning commissioners will also weigh-in when they review the issue in the next couple of weeks.

The City may also take a different direction when it comes to generating income from the sale and cultivation of cannabis. Rather than go Hanford’s route – a voter-approved sales tax (Measure C) – Olson said that city leaders could impose annual regulatory, licensing, and compliance fees on prospective dispensaries and possibly a square-foot fee on cultivation. Another route may be fees on gross dispensary sales and home deliveries.

When contacted by The Leader, first-year council member Chad Billingsley was receptive to a continuing discussion of the topic.

“I think that the tax revenue would be great,” he said but still wanted to study the issue more in depth. ”I hope that Tuesday’s meeting will give me some more knowledge. I’m not totally against it, but I would like to make an educated decision.”