By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
City planners unanimously approve cannabis ordinance. City Council will consider approval at June 18 meeting

City of Lemoore planners put their stamp of approval on a proposed ordinance allowing commercial cannabis operations and downtown dispensaries within the city limits. The ordinance would have to be approved by the Lemoore City Council.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously at its May 28 special meeting to make the changes needed in the city’s zoning laws and public health and safety ordinance that would allow the more extensive cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

The Lemoore City Council will take up the matter at its June 18 meeting.

Lemoore’s planners, to allow for the expansion of marijuana use in the city, had to make changes to the existing zoning ordinance that prohibited the establishment of commercial cannabis cultivation and its sale in downtown dispensaries.

As approved by the Lemoore Planning Commission, the proposal would allow the city to issue permits for commercial cannabis operations within certain zones. Most permits would be issued after the city council, and the operator agrees to a development agreement, which would include a variety of fees.

The public’s resistance to marijuana certainly softened the past few years starting on Nov. 9, 2016, when California voters approved Proposition 64, a measure allowing for the recreational and personal use of marijuana. On Jan. 1, 2018 California began licensing commercial cannabis businesses for both medicinal and adult use throughout the state, including cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, testing, and dispensaries.

Planning Commission Report

And earlier this year the state approved new regulations allowing the use of brick and mortar and mobile cannabis dispensaries throughout the state.

Lemoore city leaders early on appeared somewhat reluctant to expand local use. Last year, they amended the municipal code to permit and regulate the personal use of recreational and medical marijuana in residential areas. Lemoore residents, if they wanted to grow cannabis, could do so in their own homes, but were limited to the number of plants.

Lemoore isn’t the first San Joaquin Valley city to consider dispensaries and marijuana cultivation. Since January 2018 several communities in the Valley have adopted ordinances allowing commercial cannabis operations or are in the process of adopting them. The growing list includes Coalinga, Woodlake, Farmersville, Lindsay, and Fresno.

Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson was at the May 28 meeting to make a pitch for the cannabis measure from mostly an economic perspective. “Economic development is pretty tough, to get the kind of monies we need within the city to keep track of the costs every year of running the city,” he said.

“It’s another revenue stream. We’ve been watching Coalinga and Woodlake specifically because they’re our closest neighbors. I’ve personally met with the police chief and met with both city managers and a planning group out of Coalinga, and I asked them point blank, what’s the downside? What do you see that’s negative?  They couldn’t give me a negative.“

If passed by the council, marijuana cultivation and manufacturing could be allowed in light industrial and neighborhood commercial zones while dispensaries could be located in downtown areas as well as mixed-use areas and neighborhood commercial areas. Deliveries will also be allowed.

Dispensaries will be limited to one storefront for every 12,000 Lemoore residents. That would currently mean probably no more than two dispensaries based on the city’s current population of about 25,000.

Anyone wanting to do business in Lemoore will be subject to various business license and regulatory permit fees. For example, anyone interested in a commercial cannabis operation would have to pay $15 per square foot to do business in Lemoore, with a minimum fee of $45,000. Dispensaries, for example, would pay five percent of the business gross sales revenues.

Certainly, a motivating factor for council members to approve new marijuana regulations may well have been the ability to raise revenue and boost the city’s coffers. Hanford recently approved cultivation and dispensaries and then passed Measure C last November to tax the city’s cannabis operations. Hanford officials estimate the measure could generate $750,000 to $1 million annually in revenue.

Lemoore, if the council approves the new marijuana regulations, has set the tax aside, for now, instead of depending on development fees and other regulatory, licensing, and compliance fees to be assessedannually. “Every business will be required to get a development agreement approved by the city council,” said the city’s planning consultant, Steve Brandt, who described the new regulations to planners during the May 28 meeting.

The public, including downtown business leaders, also seemed to have warmed to the idea. Recently, Olson contacted local businesses about the viability of downtown recreational cannabis storefronts, and the response was positive. Olson said he talked to 50 individuals and 48 of them did not oppose dispensaries downtown.

Olson said there are investors considering Lemoore. “Currently, people I’ve talked to have an interest in the downtown area and out in the light industrial park. That’s where they want to locate.”

And he said it’s going to take millions to set up manufacturing and cultivation locations. “We don’t have agreements yet, but we do have some reputable businesses line up.”

City planners unanimously approve cannabis ordinance. City Council will consider approval at June 18 meeting