Medical cannabis patients, caregivers, and advocates are saying better late than never to Fresno City Council’s 5-2 vote to legalize medical dispensaries. Like others across the state, the California city had passed resolutions opting out of the state’s medical and adult-use cannabis industries. But on Thursday, members of City Council, led by Councilman Clint Olivier, approved a set of regulations allowing medical cannabis retail and establishing zoning guidelines for cultivators, distributors, and manufacturers.
Fresno, CA Legalizes Medical Cannabis Industry in Bid to Drive Out Unlicensed Businesses
Yet there are those who say the medical-only plan doesn’t go far enough. Writing in the Fresno Bee, Marek Warszawki, a longtime critic of city council’s position on legal cannabis, says the measure “will do little to curb the well-entrenched black market for cannabis.” Nor, argues Warszawki, will it generate the tax revenue city officials desperately hope it will. Indeed, it will take low tax rates, at least initially, to drive out unlicensed retailers.
And well-entrenched is right. According to one count, Fresno’s cannabis market supports 70 unlicensed dispensaries and 40 delivery services. But city council will let just seven retail dispensaries open in the first nine months while they review license applications to approve seven others. Council Member Olivier, a Republican who identifies as a Libertarian, said the vote was “a huge step forward in fighting the illicit drug market that has harmed our communities for far too long.”
More accurately, perhaps, it’s a small step toward recovering some of the revenue Fresno is losing due to its slow and conservative embrace of the cannabis industry. For example, even though retail has been banned in Fresno, residents can still order cannabis from other cities and have it delivered to their door. But the taxes on those purchases go to the point of origin in cities outside Fresno. So when Olivier got his Proposition A to tax cannabis sales and production on the ballot, 71 percent of Fresno voters said yes.
Fresno Will Open Seven Dispensaries Over the Next Nine Months, Approve Seven More
The city of Fresno, California passed a ban on cannabis businesses in the adult-use sector with a 4-3 vote in August 2017. The divided council even sought the help of a consultant to help shape legislation Olivier said was “based on panic and one guy’s fear”. Infighting among council members delayed progress on ordinances to let Fresno residents at least grow their own cannabis. Public hearings on the ban and related issues were reportedly raucous. Residents’ views on the retail industry clashed while many raised the demand for an end to the prohibition of medical cannabis dispensaries.
In response to those demands, Fresno City council appointed a three-member task force to study how to approach legalizing medical cannabis sales and distribution. Since studying the issue would also delay any action on it, opposition council members agreed. But the stall tactic backfired when the task force came back with a pair of proposals, one for medical and one for adult-use sales, and advocated for both. The task force’s report surprised anti-industry council members and even the Fresno chief of police. After that, Olivier’s medical-only proposal seemed like a good deal. And today, the City Council signed off on it, passing the resolution 5-2.