Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp was among the speakers to comment during today’s Fresno City Council meeting on a proposal to allow businesses related to recreational or medicinal marijuana to operate in the city. She warned the council members that allowing businesses on the recreational side wouldn’t end Fresno’s black market of illegal marijuana sales and might end up strengthening the illegal practices, along with the gangs that run them. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
In a stunning reversal, the Fresno City Council has reversed its earlier decision and voted unanimously this afternoon to authorize the development of an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.
The vote came following impassioned comments from the audience both in favor and against amending the ordinance passed earlier this year that banned in the city any businesses directly involved in the production, distribution, testing or sale of marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational use.
California has allowed medical marijuana dispensaries and related business for nearly 21 years, and voters in the state approved in November of last year Prop. 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which allows the use, sale and production of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Rather than enact the law at the start of this year, state officials delayed the legalization of such businesses while they developed licensing rules for them.
The process of issuing those licenses began on Thursday, and the first legal recreational cannabis businesses can begin operations after the start of the new year.
While the state has worked out licensing, cities and counties have been able to decide for themselves if they’ll allow recreational marijuana business or not allow any at all – as they already could with medical marijuana businesses — with Fresno City and Fresno County falling into the latter category prior to today’s vote.
City Council members Clinton Olivier, Oliver L. Baines III and Paul Caprioglio introduced an amendment to the earlier ordinance banning all cannabis businesses and instead sought to allow the city to develop a revised ordinance that would allow here cultivation, manufacturing of products made with marijuana, extraction of oils from marijuana plants, testing of marijuana, distribution, delivery and the opening medicinal marijuana dispensaries.
Councilman Steve Brandau, who opposed allowing any cannabis-related businesses within the city limits in the past, initially said during the meeting that he wouldn’t support the amendment, claiming it was framed as if it were supporting the permitting of just medical marijuana businesses, but didn’t specifically prohibit recreational marijuana businesses.
As such, he said, it created a “slippery slope” that could open the door for businesses supporting recreational marijuana use and shops selling it.
Olivier strongly denied this and after the meeting noted that the three-page amendment stated clearly that it would allow both types of businesses.
Brandau added, as the meeting unfolded, that over the past five years he has been involved in the marijuana debate, he has come to see the pressing need people with genuine medical conditions for marijuana and marijuana-infused products to treat their ailments. He also cited the validity of such comments from some of the people who spoke during the meeting in favor of changing the existing ordinance.
He then made a motion to change the proposed ordinance amendment to allow only businesses selling or supporting medicinal marijuana to operate in Fresno, keeping the prohibition on recreational marijuana businesses in place.
Olivier, the council president, called for a recess to speak privately with Baines III and Caprioglio about this, and when the meeting started up again, he said the three of them would vote against the Brandau’s suggested revision.
But after more discussion, Olivier changed his mind and said he would support the change, leading to the 7-0 vote.
That doesn’t mean people looking to start medical marijuana businesses here can line up at city hall to apply for permits right after the start of the year.
Baines said the city is looking to hire a consultant with expertise on marijuana businesses and how they have interacted with communities to work with Fresno city staff on developing an ordinance for here, and then it would need to be reviewed by some city departments before drafts are presented to the City Council, probably in February or March.
Some time after that, the council would vote on whether to approve it.
“What was important about today is because we allowed the full integration of the whole cannabis industry, what you will see come back is a comprehensive ordinance,” unlike those in communities allowing some types of cannabis businesses but not others, Baines said.
“Instead of pulling pieces out – oh, we’re going to allow this or not going to allow this – I’ll be honest with you, we are one of the few cities in California that is going to allow the full integration of the cannabis industry,” though it may be months before that happens, he said after the vote.
Read more about the vote and its potential effects in next week’s Business Journal.