The Most Marijuana-Unfriendly Place In California

When most Americans think of California, the southern San Joaquin Valley—flat and dusty, full of industrial agriculture and conservative values, where the only fruits and nuts grow on trees and are shipped to China—is probably not what springs to mind.

The five counties immediately north of Los Angeles do their own thing and don’t much care what the freaks along the coast think about it. For the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, that includes declaring marijuana a public health hazard, and taking emergency measures to ensure their tidy little corner of California remains free of legal cannabis.

Fresno County has long been off-limits to medical-marijuana cultivation operations and dispensaries. To find either will require a long drive south to L.A., or a longer drive north to somewhere close to Sacramento. And Prop. 64—which legalized up to an ounce of marijuana for adults over 21, and allows for the opening of retail recreational cannabis sales in the state—won’t change any of that.

Prop. 64 lost in Fresno County and in nearby Kern, Tulare, and Madera counties, in some cases by more than 10 percentage points. Compare that to the rest of the state, where voters approved legalization by nearly 15 percentage points—or the rest of the country, where 60 percent of Americans are sick of marijuana prohibition—and you can easily see Fresno is a place apart.

Fresno is prime agricultural land, the kind of place where big-time cannabis cultivation operations might want to set up massive greenhouses. They won’t because they can’t, as the “emergency ordinance” approved by Fresno County supervisors on Tuesday outlaws anything resembling a commercial marijuana operation, as ABC 30 reported.

But they don’t stop there.

Based on alarmist statements from the county sheriff that even the possession of “nonmedical marijuana” leads to “a variety of threats,” the Board on Tuesday declared “the possession, planting, cultivation, harvesting, drying, or processing of nonmedical marijuana outdoors on the grounds of a private residence, and the establishment or operation of businesses engaged in commercial marijuana activity” as “a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare of the residents of and visitors to Fresno County.”

According to the county’s new law, even the possession of “nonmedical marijuana” outdoors in unincorporated Fresno County is now prohibited.

This is a problem—for one, it violates the law, as in that legalization measure that voters just passed.

Prop. 64 allows cities and counties to regulate commercial marijuana activity however they see fit, including with a ban. But it also says any California resident 21 and over is allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow six plants, regardless of where they live.

As local marijuana attorney Brenda Linder saw it, the board “is attempting to circumvent that state law and even outlaw or ban… mere possession” at “someone’s private residential property.”

County officials argued that Prop. 64, an affair of more than sixty pages crafted over a period of several years by one of the best-funded, most-careful campaigns in recent memory, is merely “poorly written,” ABC 30 reported, and is meant to clarify that recreational marijuana can only be grown indoors and that sales are forbidden.

Why they included “possession” in their emergency law, then, is a fair question.

Supervisors said they “may” modify their new emergency law as time goes on. But so far, other communities in Fresno County are following their lead and “sticking with tough restrictions”–meaning, blanket bans.

Why does Fresno loathe weed so? One reason could be that thanks to their emergency action on the topic, the only local marijuana sales are all black-market deals. About the only locality in the area to take a different tack on the issue is Coalinga, where Damien Marley is a partner in an effort to convert a closed prison into a cannabis production facility.

The next time you’re on the long and lonely road in between L.A. and the Bay Area, you know where to stop–and when to keep on driving.

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