The County of Kern and the City of Bakersfield are apparently united in banning all commercial cannabis activity, but the City of Arvin may have other ideas.
The small, rural community, about half an hour south of Bakersfield, is looking to allow the indoor cultivation of commercial marijuana. The city's planning commission voted 4-1 on Monday to approve a resolution recommending that an ordinance to that effect be approved by the Arvin City Council. The council will discuss it Nov. 7.
“There’s nothing we can do to stop people from smoking marijuana,” said Mayor Jose Gurrola. “The most effective way to deal with it is to regulate it. The purpose of this ordinance, really, is to effectively deal with this emerging industry.”
The proposed ordinance allows for a maximum grow of 1,350,000 square feet at a time. Businesses and their employees would be required to apply for permits in order to legally operate. All employees would need to be 21 and over.
If the ordinance is approved, Arvin would be the first Kern County town to allow the cultivation of recreational marijuana. California City approved a cultivation ordinance last year but only for medical marijuana.
“By being first, there’s an opportunity to try to get businesses to invest in the community,” Gurrola said. “I think people are going to be interested in growing.”
While the ordinance, if passed, would allow for cultivation of medical and recreational marijuana, all dispensaries and marijuana sales would still be banned in the city. The ordinance would allow growers to sell their product only to distributors.
“The community does not want dispensaries in town,” Gurrola said. “This ordinance is a balance between regulating the industry and being conscious of what the community wants.”
Miguel Rivera, the lone "no" vote on the planning commission, said he opposed it for a few reasons.
“Part of it is just my personal convictions,” he said. “ Even though marijuana is legal in the state, I don’t agree with that.”
Rivera said he also has concerns about how legalizing cultivation would burden the Arvin Police Department.
“If a corporation came to set up shop, all employees would have to do background check, and the police would have to do that,” he said. “They would have to do check-ups on the businesses. They have to meet with security to make sure the business is up to standard. Our police force is already short-handed, and we’re asking them to do extra.”
Police Chief Richard “Jerry” Breckinridge couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Rivera said he’s not upset the rest of the planning commissioners voted in favor. “I believe in democracy,” he said.
One of the main reasons the city is pushing for regulation over prohibition is that it badly needs the tax and fee revenue. The city recently revealed it is looking at a budget deficit of around $1.8 million for the fiscal year due to some double-counting and overestimation of revenues.
“In light of our budgetary situation ... we’re moving forward with this,” Gurrola said. “If we regulate it, we can take advantage of some potential tax revenue. This wouldn’t be a ton of revenue though. We don’t see this as what’s going to save us.”
Gurrola said the city also sees cannabis cultivation as an opportunity to bring more business and jobs to the community.
Arvin would benefit, he said, "if a regulatory framework is put in place that allows for developers to come in and have warehouses of grows to add revenue to the city but also employ hundreds of people. These would be good-paying jobs.”
At least one Bakersfield leader, however, feels that Arvin officials shouldn’t indulge the temptation to use commercial cannabis as a tax revenue boost.
“This is not an issue where we should evaluate the amount of money that could be involved. It’s a family health issue,” said Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, one of the leading opponents of cannabis regulation in Bakersfield. “We need to stand together and send a strong message that Kern County does not tolerate marijuana."
The Bakersfield City Council and the Kern County Board of Supervisors both recently passed ordinances banning all commercial pot activity.
Sullivan said that if the City of Arvin does decide to approve the ordinance, it likely won’t have a major effect on the rest of the county.
“If they don’t do the right thing, that’s going to be a shame, but it’s not going to affect the majority that are strongly committed to the ban,” she said of the City of Arvin. “I would encourage them to do what’s best for their community.”
Gurrola said he hopes the county and other cities will come to see that regulation is the way to go.
“Arvin and California City can be models for Kern County,” he said. “I’ve urged the county [to understand] that the best way to deal with [marijuana] is to regulate it. I think the county will eventually move in that direction.”
Cities must have some kind of policy in place regarding marijuana by the end of the year, because starting in January, provisions from Proposition 64 will go into effect, allowing the state to begin issuing permits for cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and sale.
If the Arvin City Council approves a first reading of the cannabis ordinance at its Nov. 7 meeting, Gurrola said, the proposal will go up for a final vote at the council’s Nov. 21 meeting. If approved, he said the ordinance would take effect in 60 days, which would be late January.