By Ed Martin, Editor
The Lemoore City Council got its first look at a cannabis ordinance that if passed would allow medical and recreational marijuana to be cultivated and sold in Lemoore.
The Lemoore City Council got its first look at a cannabis ordinance that if passed would allow medical and recreational marijuana to be cultivated and sold in Lemoore.

Citing the positive experiences of a few of its Valley neighbors, the Lemoore City Council – at its regular Tuesday night study session – took a closer look at the “upside” of allowing the cultivation and sales of recreational marijuana.

Lemoore’s five council members didn’t hear much about the downside. In fact, they were told Tuesday night that local communities with marijuana dispensaries had only positive experiences, so said Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson.

Olson used Tuesday night’s study session to unveil a proposed ordinance allowing the commercial cultivation and the sale of medicinal and commercial marijuana. Should council members vote to allow the sale of recreational cannabis, residents, and others could – in the near future - purchase it from possibly two licensed downtown dispensaries.

“This is a way to bring in additional funds for the General Fund,” said Olson who introduced the draft ordinance Tuesday night. However, to sell recreational marijuana, it will have to pass through the Lemoore Planning Commission and then get its final approval from the Lemoore City Council.

Olson added that rather than passing a new tax on cannabis via an election, he proposed a series of business and regulatory licensing plans to raise revenue. “We’re choosing to go with a development agreement at this point,” said Olson. He didn’t rule out a future sales tax measure in the future. “This is a way to bring additional funds for the General Fund.”

So far, the recreational and medicinal sales of marijuana have greatly benefitted some communities. Woodlake, one of the first Valley cities to open cannabis dispensaries, saw 345,000 people visit its downtown in the last 11 months. “That’s a lot of foot traffic,” said Olson. “Lots of new growth and business is going into Woodlake. They’ve actually transformed the (downtown) quite a bit.”

The Woodlake dispensaries have been open for about a year. Recently, the City of Hanford opted to enter the cannabis business allowing two delivery dispensaries that would operate out of the city’s industrial park and two storefront dispensaries in the city’s core Downtown Improvement District. The motivating factor for Hanford’s elected leadership was to boost the city’s financial coffers. In anticipation of medicinal and recreational sales, council members sponsored last year’s Measure C, a sales tax that could generate $750,000 to $1 million annually in revenue.

Lemoore City Council gets first look at proposed ordinance to sell recreational, medical cannabis
Hanford’s voters passed it with 72 percent of the vote.

Olson said he’s talked to city officials in Woodlake and Coalinga about the downside of cannabis. “Both Woodlake and Coalinga couldn’t give us a downside,” said. “They’re not seeing crime spikes. The police chief out in Woodlake wasn’t for it in the beginning, but now he’s glad it’s there.

“I asked point blank, what is the negative impact of this?” It turns out the city officials couldn’t think of any, insisting that recreational marijuana sales didn’t increase crime or traffic incidents. “They’re not seeing increases.”

Olson recently conducted an informal survey in anticipation of Tuesday’s study session. “I had the pleasure of walking downtown with (Chamber of Commerce Executive Director) Amy Ward. We visited quite a bit of our business area and talked with business owners. I was rather surprised at the results,” said Olson, who told the council that of 50 business persons they talked with,  48 were okay with the downtown sales of marijuana, though some said it wouldn’t be their first choice for a downtown business. Only two were against the proposal.

Olson stated that marijuana is already being delivered to Lemoore residents and the tax revenues for those sales are going to the cities where the purchase occurred, leaving Lemoore’s financial coffers out in the cold.

Council members and those who attended Tuesday’s meeting seemed generally receptive to the idea. Councilmember Holly Blair reminded the council of her support for recreational marijuana. “We could have done this a year ago,” she told the Council. Instead, Blair appeared to chastise the members for attempting to raise revenue through traffic tickets. “It’s an irresponsible way of going about it,” she said.

Olson suggested that the recently vacated Kmart building at the Save Mart Shopping Center and the Cinnamon Municipal Complex could conceivably attract commercial and retail marijuana business, but both sites would require zoning changes.