COALINGA, Calif. - The only city in Fresno County where you can commercially grow medical marijuana is in Coalinga. The city said land purchases have surged, and the industry is going to bring millions of dollars to the community. But, the Chief of the Coalinga Police Department said his number one focus is public safety. He plans to monitor and secure the facilities as much as he can.
Chief Michael Salvador said whether he likes it or not, the production of medical marijuana is now allowed in his city. He said the companies will be heavily vetted, and they will have to comply with his licensing rules. Salvador said he initially wanted to ban the production of medical marijuana in the city, but voters in November passed an ordinance that allowed for commercial cannabis growth.
"Whether I like it or don't like it, doesn't matter any more. It becomes how do you work within the law and do the things necessary to protect public safety? And that's what we're trying to do out here," stated Salvador.
Salvador said the city has received dozens of applications from Fortune 500 companies and wealthy entrepreneurs for licenses to grow marijuana - and those business people are willing to pay millions for land.
"We look into financials on all these people. We look into criminal histories of all these people. It's a pretty thick packet," said Salvador.
All employees who work at one of the facilities will go through a full background check. The police department will monitor the production via live surveillance cameras, and Salvador sai they'll have full access to the company's log of what comes in and what goes out.
Mayor Nathan Vosburg said, "Our intention is to create something that is very well regulated."
Vosburg said the main catalyst for why Coalinga is allowing commercial medical facilities is to shore up the city's dismal finances.
"When we have a prison that's just sitting out there and we're 3.6 [million] in the hole because of the prison, that makes a big difference when someone comes and says 'Hey, we're gonna wipe out your debt'," stated Vosburg.
But some residents are fearful this may expose more people to marijuana.
Resident Faye Mendenhall said, "I think we're concerned that it might bring more crime into the community or that somehow the younger people will get more access to it."
Mendenhall voted against the commercial marijuana ordinance, but said she hopeful Salvador will make sure the cannabis production sites are not a public nuisance or hazard.
"I know that he's [Salvador] gonna try to do his best because it's passed, so we're gonna see how it works," ended Mendenhall.
Salvador said he's already had to hire two more officers whose sole job is to vet and do background checks on these companies and monitor them. He said it's going to cost his department an additional $300,000 dollars a year to patrol over these marijuana companies.