Tulare approves recreational marijuana

Tulare becomes fourth city in Tulare County to approve the sale of recreational marijuana within its city limits

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE – Tulare will become Tulare County’s fourth city to allow the sale of recreational marijuana within its boundaries.

At its Dec. 3 meeting, the Tulare City Council approved the draft of an ordinance allowing dispensaries to sell marijuana to anyone 21 and older. After several meetings of debate, questions and revisions, the cannabis ordinance would limit the number of marijuana dispensaries to five including three recreational permits and two medicinal permits, restrict recreational dispensaries to the service commercial and retail commercial zones of the city, set operating hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and require dispensaries to locate more than 1,000 feet from each other and at least 600 feet from any school. Cannabis deliveries are only allowed by companies with a valid state permit and those companies must obtain a city business license to legally deliver within the city limits.

The decision was opposed by the Tulare Joint Union High School in a resolution adopted by the school board last month. The resolution was presented to the city council by board president Laura Fonseca who said the number of suspensions has doubled since Proposition 64 was passed by California voters in November 2016. Fonseca said the number of suspensions has risen from 146 in 2016-17 to 293 in 2018-19 and those suspensions equaled nearly 600 school days and over 3,500 hours of education time that students missed for coming on campus with marijuana in their pockets or smoking in the bathroom. In order to combat that, the district has more than doubled the amount it is spending on drug prevention and intervention to $274,000.  

“That’s money not going to kids, extracurricular activities, [career and technical education] CTE,” she said. “This resolution not intended to tell council how to vote but give real life facts about what we are facing with our students.”

Councilmember Carlton Jones took issue with the resolution. He chastised the school board for intervening in city business following the recent news that Tulare Western High School band teacher gave alcohol to a student while at a band competition in Riverside, Calif. 

“I don’t go on campus and say these are they types of teachers you hire,” Jones said. “Every time I hear of an adult-child relationship, I respect the board and your decision on how to handle that.”

Gabriel Jacquez, a local business owner, spoke during the public hearing and urged the council to “do the right thing” and vote against the ordinance. He said if the school district is saying there is a problem with kids obtaining a drug than they should be listening.

“People are watching this council and the moves you are going to make,” Jacquez said.

Vice Mayor Dennis Mederos has never supported the idea of allowing dispensaries within the city but more importantly said he does not think the community is in favor of the idea. Most of the comments from the public on the issue have been against the idea and only 46% of Tulare voters supported Proposition 64, the Adults Use of Marijuana Act, in the November 2016 election. 

“Specifically, from the very beginning, I would have liked to see this go to ballot, and cost of that,” Mederos said.

Sigala said the cost of the city’s election is already around $100,000 and that the additional cost was the primary reason the city did not take the issue to the voters. The current estimate for the city’s costs for the November 2020 election is between $79,000 and $100,000 and the city attorney suggested that could double with the addition of a local measure. 

The council also heard from its student representatives who were announced earlier at that meeting. Tulare Western High School junior Sebastian Pires told the council marijuana is extremely easy to obtain and can often be done through social media. 

“It’s an issue and it’s very very rampant, not only in my high school but all high schools,” Pires said. “Legalizing and open more dispensaries will only increase.”

TWHS senior Amber Munoz said the schools attempt to have speakers and assemblies about issue of marijuana use but many students tune it out and “aren’t taking it as serious as it needs to be.” Junior Araceli Espinoza said more needed to be done to raise awareness about the negative affects of not only marijuana use, but also vaping. 

Frank Arano said marijuana was already illegal for anyone under 21 years of age, which means adults are providing marijuana to kids in one form or another. Providing adults with the ability to legally purchase it closer to home he argued would have little affect on how kids obtain the drug. Instead, Arano said the money generated by the taxes could be used to provide more opportunities for kids such as creating a trade school.

“We need something for plumbing, electrical, framing and concrete skills,” Arano said. 

Chase Landers said there are some negatives for cities that have passed marijuana in other states, but that has been offset by the amount of money the taxes have generated and how they have been used. One of the first cities to allow recreational marijuana in Colorado was Pueblo. Landers said the industry has been a boon for the city by generating millions each year for the city to fight homelessness and drug addiction. 

Councilmember Carlton Jones said he did not personally drink, smoke or use marijuana but said he may one day need the letter for medical reasons. Jones said he knows several firefighters who use marijuana as part of their cancer treatments and that as a firefighter he is at a greater risk of getting cancer than the average person. 

“My decision has never been financial, just about representing the rights of people,” Jones said. “I will tell you, I’ve seen the benefits. There may be a day where I have to turn to marijuana for that.”

Jones likened the issue to the council’s 2013 decision to allow Galaxy Theater to sell beer and wine. He said those who opposed the decision said it would make alcohol to easy for obtain for underage teenagers and that it would lead to more adults being disorderly at the Tulare Outlets. 

“Kids aren’t going to go to movies and spend $15 to get drunk,” Jones said. “[Galaxy] been very responsible that its for adult use only and there hasn’t been any problems. It didn’t prompt me to want to have a drink at the movies.”

Jones said he did not think passing an ordinance would reduce underage use of marijuana but did say it he didn’t think it would increase adult use of marijuana. He then motioned to approve the ordinance. The motion was seconded by Terry Sayre and passed 3-1, with Mederos voting no. Councilmember Greg Nunley was absent. 

Other rules of the ordinance are that: All employees must obtain an employee permit, which includes a fee, background check, etc.; permits must be renewed prior to the end of each year for the following year; dispensaries can use exterior signage to promote their logo and name but not the sale of cannabis; and requires businesses to find alternative sources of water if the city cannot meet their water supply needs. 

Under the law, operating permits can be denied if: the business operates in an area that violates local or state law; the business owner had a permit that was revoked in another jurisdiction. A permit can also be denied if the business owner has been: convicted of a felony for a serious, violent or drug related crime; a misdemeanor related to theft or dishonesty; lies on an application or falsifies documentation; engaged in bad business practices in the past; younger than 21 years old; or if any applicable fees to operate the business have not been paid. 

The ordinance will come back for its first reading at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 17 and a second reading in January. After final approval, the ordinance will take effect 30 days later and staff will create a timeline for the application process for permits. The first of the permits are expected to be awarded in Spring of 2020.

After the vote, Mayor Sigala pointed out the council will still have some work to do. He said the council will need to select a process of vetting and approving dispensary permits and set the tax rate on the sales of marijuana within the city which will require a measure on the November ballot. Sigala said the average tax is 5% and suggested the city consider something in the 1% to 2% range to remain competitive with surrounding cities. 

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