By I. smiley G. Calderón | firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re living within the city of Fresno, you should know that your city is actively and officially trying to regulate the already booming marijuana market currently operating within its borders. That’s a good thing – if done fairly and socially equitably, of course. And, it’s really about time, too – anyone in the know is already aware that finding cannabis to buy in Fresno is not a difficult task. In fact, Weedmaps, the popular app that locates active cannabis storefronts and delivery services, clearly shows a thriving local industry hidden all around us.
But the problem with this industry is that it is still “illegal” – right?
Yes, at the federal level, cannabis continues to be demonized by its unfair categorization as a Schedule I drug – the worst illegal category possible. Schedule I is reserved for substances “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” (I know – it’s utterly mind-blowing and incredibly frustrating that our federal government still refuses to acknowledge the countless documented medicinal benefits of cannabis – Aargh!) But, thankfully, at the state level, California has been a progressive leader in its decriminalization and legalization. California has long recognized cannabis as a legitimate medicine with the passing of Proposition 215 in 1996, called the “Compassionate Use Act,” and even recently legalized its adult recreational use a few years back in 2016 with the passing of Proposition 64, “The Adult Use of Marijuana Act.”
The resultant “Green Rush” is an exciting time here in the Golden State.
But, for the County of Fresno, it hasn’t been too exhilarating: all dispensaries, storefronts, sales, and cannabis delivery services are illegal. In fact, any kind of cannabis cultivation is prohibited. (the county is desperately trying to maintain federal law) What is more concerning is the verbiage stated in the County’s Fact Sheet regarding local “Non-Medical Marijuana” laws that appears to restrict possessing any amount of recreational cannabis:
“Possession, planting, cultivation, harvesting, drying, or processing outdoors on the grounds of a private residence is prohibited in all Zone Districts of the unincorporated territory of Fresno County, to the fullest extent permitted by State law.”
Businesses aside, the wording in this text appears to intercept the rights granted to individuals by Prop 64 – a topic I plan to cover in more depth for a future issue of the Flyer. What a shame Fresno County stubbornly continues to keep itself in the dark ages of cannabis prohibition staunchly!
This is why the recent discussion of cannabis businesses at the October 24th City Council meeting was a welcomed progressive step forward for our community. The meeting focused on amending the already existing Cannabis Retail Business and Commercial Cannabis Business City Ordinance that passed late last year in December as Bill No. B-66, which added Article 33 to Chapter 9 (Regulations Regarding Businesses and Personal Conduct) of the Municipal Code and Charter of Fresno. A month before it passed, Fresnan voters had already approved Measure A, The Cannabis Business License Tax, which set the stage for the city to implement an excise tax on cannabis sales.
One of the original sponsors of Bill No. B-66, Councilmember Clint Olivier of District 7, said this at the time: “Whether you agree with cannabis or you think it’s moral to use or not, it’s here. It is now going to be part of our lives forever…Right now, we have illicit cannabis businesses in city limits that are not paying taxes. This is a way to license these businesses and tax them…”
Legitimizing and regulating the local cannabis industry is a very smart and practical approach for both voters and elected officials in the city of Fresno.
The proposed changes at last month’s meeting would give more control of the cannabis business selection process to the City Council by removing a lot of oversight from the City Manager. It would also implement a social equity component to this nascent cannabis industry by waiving fees for qualified business applicants, especially for those from communities of color who have historically been affected and targeted in the infamous “War on Drugs.” The proposed changes would require businesses to hire a certain minimum number (1/3 the total annual work hours) of workers who represent underserved and underrepresented social equity policy criteria, like having an annual family income below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or living in a low to moderate-income census tract in Fresno for the past 3 years. Other social policy employee criteria include hiring former foster youths, veterans, or those convicted for a cannabis-related crime that, under current state law, would have been prosecuted as a misdemeanor or infraction. The proposed ordinance would also require businesses with more than 20 employees to enter into a legally binding labor peace agreement with its employees – something great for workers’ rights. And, in a serious attempt to curtail corruption in this process, the proposed changes would also restrict any contact with councilmembers, any elected officials, or Planning Commissioner city staff once a cannabis business application has been filed. A lot of critical changes to consider here. The Council is set to vote on the matter within the month.
If this process seems convoluted and complicated, that’s because it is.
How does the old saying go, ‘Leave it to the government to take a simple thing and overcomplicate it’? Yes, absolutely. So, what could be just as easy as ‘legitimize, legalize, and tax’ has morphed into ‘complicate, overcomplicate, tax, and then overcomplicate some more.’ When bureaucracy’s tentacles grab hold of profitable industry, there undoubtedly emerges new winners and losers in the marketplace. For example, once the city implements its cannabis business license program and awards its coveted licenses to the Council’s chosen few, any other currently operating dispensary or cannabis business not granted a permit will be immediately and explicitly outlawed. It’s nothing new, really, since all active cannabis businesses within the city are already currently illicit and illegal. But for those trying to legally ride the “Green Wave” as legitimate cannabis business owners here in the City of Fresno, not winning a cannabis business license would destroy those dreams – and force a continued black-market cannabis industry here in the community.
Wouldn’t it be great if the government allowed our industry to thrive – why can’t we just cannabis?