//To Be or Not to Be, Legal

To Be or Not to Be, Legal

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

A short history: on November 8, 2016, Proposition 64 (The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act) was passed by a majority of California’s voters.  It immediately became effective. However, what were its effects? Retail sales of recreational cannabis began in January 2018 – in theory.  Although it allows for the recreational use, possession, and personal growth of marijuana, and the commercial growth, testing, manufacture, distribution, and retail sales – Prop 64 stipulates that all those commercial endeavors shall be under the control of local counties and municipalities. That distribution of power has led to a crazy quilt of permissions and prohibitions across the state, and the Central Valley is no exception.

Let’s start right here in Fresno.  

Fresno County’s Board of Supervisors ruled that only indoor home grows were allowable (and that only by dint of the power of Prop 64), with no permission for commercial growing, testing, manufacturing, distributing, or selling – either for medical or recreational use.

Several towns in Fresno County fell right in line with that paradigm, including Kingsburg, Sanger, Fowler, Orange Cove, Kerman and Huron.  Reedley and Selma took that restrictiveness a step further, requiring permits for indoor personal grows. Only slightly less restrictive are the ordinances in Clovis, which additionally allows medical testing.  Firebaugh, Parlier, and Mendota up the ante by allowing everything except outdoor personal grows and any form of retail sales (medical or recreational).  At the top of the heap, among Fresno County municipalities, in terms of pot permissiveness, is Coalinga, which allows everything except outdoor home growing.  It should also be noted that Fresno City just stepped away from the pack of Fresno County policy clones on December 13, 2018, when it voted, 5 to 2, to allow growing, manufacturing, testing, and retail sales of medical marijuana. Stipulations of the ordinance include limiting retail sale permits to one per council district for the first year and two per district in the second year, with consideration of recreational sales at the end of the first year.  Details have yet to be worked out.  

Walls do not have to be built of concrete and steel. They say the two things you can’t avoid are death and taxes – and death is not available as a legal sanction to a now legal process.  So, taxes.  For those cities listed above that do allow some form of commercial marijuana enterprise, the tax is uniformly $25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square foot for any additional space.  For Coalinga, the only town allowing retail recreational sales, there is a 10% tax on gross sales.  The official narrative, as provided within the text of Prop 64, is that these tax dollars will “cover the cost of administering the new law and will provide funds to: invest in public health programs that educate youth to prevent and treat serious substance abuse; train local law enforcement to enforce the new law with a focus on DUI enforcement; invest in communities to reduce the illicit market and create job opportunities; and provide for environmental cleanup and restoration of public lands damaged by illegal marijuana cultivation.”

So, unless you live close to Coalinga, or have a feverish Fresno County allegiance, you might consider going across the border to a neighboring county.  What additional opportunity might that provide you?  

At the top of the heap, among Fresno County municipalities, in terms of pot permissiveness, is Coalinga

Well, don’t heed Horace Greeley.  Going west will put you in Madera County, where every town in the county (Madera and Chowchilla) has passed the most restrictive rules allowed under Prop 64 (the same as Reedley and Selma).  Unincorporated Madera County’s rules are the same as Fresno County’s (no requirement for permits for home grows).  

To the south/southwest you have Kings County, which is as intolerant as Selma, Reedley, Madera, and Chowchilla.  Most of its towns (Avenal, Corcoran, Lemoore) are in line with the Fresno/Madera County paradigm: no commercial enterprise, no permit required for home grows.  Hanford stands out as the most lenient municipality in Kings County, allowing everything except retail sales (medical or recreational).

Turning to the southeast, you find Tulare County, where almost every municipality is an anomaly.  Exeter and Dinuba follow the Fresno/Madera County protocol (nothing allowed except indoor home grows, but without a permit); Lindsay and Porterville allow outdoor as well as indoor home grows but nothing else; Tulare allows medical retail sales but no other commercial enterprise; unincorporated Tulare County allows commercial medical growing and distribution, but no sales, testing, or outdoor personal grows; and Farmersville requires a permit for indoor personal grows (no outdoor grows allowed) but also allows commercial growing, manufacturing, and testing of recreational and medical cannabis (no sales or distribution).  Then there is Woodlake. By local referendum in 2017, Woodlake legalized all forms of marijuana activity permissible under Prop 64. The tax structure is essentially the same as those areas where partial legalization has been enacted: $25 per square foot or 10% of gross revenue, whichever is greater. 

If you would rather travel northwest, to Merced County, you have a similar array of options.  The unincorporated county is on the indoor-home-grow-with-no-permit plan (nothing else allowed), along with Gustine and Dos Palos.  Los Banos requires a permit for indoor home grows (nothing else allowed).  Atwater and Livingston allow everything except outdoor personal grows and sales of any kind.  Here the king of commerce is Merced city itself, allowing all commercial endeavors but prohibiting outdoor personal grows.  

So there you have it. If you are hoping to buy recreational cannabis products from a legal retail outlet, without going over the mountains and through the woods (or over 100 miles), you have three options: Coalinga, Woodlake, Merced. 

Caveat Emptor: This is the list of locales where sales are legal.  Do the necessary research to determine if stores have been permitted and have opened their doors for business.  

Caveat Negotiator:  If you are hoping to go into cannabusiness, keep in mind that the licensing fees are per business type as defined under prop 64; i.e., if you wanted to grow cannabis, then process and extract oil from it, then sell your extracts to other retail outlets while also selling them and your plant material (bud) at your own retail outlet, that would be four (4) separate licenses: Growing, Manufacture, Distribution, and Retail Sales.

Caveat Civis:  If you find a grayed-out block on the grid above that represents something you would like to do, in the locale where you reside, advocate for a change in the regulations where you live.  Hopefully, you voted in the 2016 General Election that made Prop 64 law.  It was and is a law intended to provide legal access to and use of cannabis for all citizens of California, over 21 years of age.  If your town or county has thrown a roadblock in that access route by exercising their mandated right to control cannabis, contact your city council member and/or county supervisor to let your voice be heard on the matter.  Organize.  Contact NORML for assistance and guidance for your advocacy.  They have a Central Valley Chapter, which can be reached at fresno@canorml.org. 

The statewide chapter of NORML is located in San Francisco:

Director: Dale Gieringer
Deputy Director: Ellen Komp
2261 Market St. #278A
San Francisco, CA 94114

If you are serious about pursuing a business path in the California cannabis industry, go to www.bcc.ca.gov.  The Bureau of Cannabis Control is the agency mandated by Prop 64 and tasked with the administration of all things cannabis in California.  There you can research all of the legal parameters for each industry sector and fill out the necessary forms to be licensed.