The Arvin City Council decided to take the next step with their commercial cannabis ordinance despite strong opposition from residents and the absence of two council members.
In its Nov. 7 meeting, the council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance allowing the indoor cultivation of commercial cannabis, with councilwomen Erika Madrigal and Gabriela Martinez absent. The council is set to hold another hearing and get comment from the other council members at its Nov. 21 meeting, where a final vote is set to take place.
"I think that we have a responsibility to adopt responsible public policy," said Mayor Jose Gurrola. "The county's stance on this, in my opinion, has been ineffective. What Bakersfield has done has been ineffective, so I think that this is a measured approach. It is a compromise."
The Bakersfield City Council and the Kern County Board of Supervisors both recently passed ordinances banning all commercial pot activity. All cities across the state must have a plan in place addressing cannabis by the end of the year, as starting in January, the state will begin issuing permits to manufacturers, dispensaries and other businesses due to the passage of Proposition 64 last November.
Arvin's 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.
While the ordinance would allow growers to sell their product to distributors, dispensaries and other retail marijuana sales are still banned in the city. Essentially, cannabis would be grown in Arvin but sold to other markets in places such as Los Angeles or San Francisco.
The ordinance comes as the city is looking for more revenue options. 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.
One Arvin resident, Henry Oliver, said during the he is in favor of a total ban when it comes to cannabis.
"I am greatly disturbed that the city would even consider going this route," he said. "It is very, very bad and it's going to bring into this city all kinds of people that we don't have the desire to have here. We have children in this city. We don't need them to be around this kind of filth."
In a few cases, residents voiced more extreme views about cannabis.
"You don't need cannabis to be your God. King Cannabis cannot replace King God in the City of Arvin," said Bakersfield resident Tom Alexander. "You will not be blessed if you do that. It goes against God's law. I encourage you not to become, by default, drug dealers."
While the majority of speakers were against the ordinance, there were a few that spoke up in favor of it.
Gary Lowe, who runs a medical cannabis manufacturing company with his wife Vicki, said residents shouldn't assume that all cannabis businesses are bad.
"I hear people coming up and saying 'what kind of people are going to come into our town?' You're looking at the kind of people who are going come to your town. Business people who have real interests in running a good business, paying their taxes and being a good member of the community," he said. "What we're looking for is a community is where we can set up our good business, hire local employees to come help us build a business that makes a difference in the community. I urge you to stay open-minded."
Cancer survivor and medical marijuana user Sebastian Vasquez urged the council and residents not to be dismissive.
"It's not all evil. It's not all bad," he said. "I can honestly say medical marijuana saved my life. I'm here talking to you due to that. I'd just ask everybody here not to be so ignorant toward it. Just educate yourselves. We're not all drug dealers. There's good, innocent people. Open up your eyes and open up your heart a bit."