The struggling Central California city of Coalinga approved a groundbreaking agreement with a medical marijuana company in July, agreeing to let the business use a vacant jail as a cannabis production plant.
The vote will give Ocean Grow Extracts access to the empty Claremont Custody Center, a local holding facility that closed in recent years, where the company will manufacture cannabis products. Claremont was one of the biggest employers in Coalinga before it closed, along with the nearby Pleasant Valley State Prison.
The city is also heavily dependent on revenue from petroleum, but that industry has collapsed as global oil prices have stagnated. Left with few other reliable sources of revenue, Coalinga officials faced a deep pile of debt and no way to pay it off. Ocean Grow offered them a way out of that bind.
The company plans to use Claremont as a factory for making marijuana concentrates, including hash oil and CBD preparations. These products would be sold on California’s legal medical cannabis market and, if a legalization proposal wins at the ballot in November, on a legal recreational market as well.
Sale income will help Coalinga out of financial hardship
Ocean Grow agreed to buy the jail for $4.1 million, money that will allow the city to pay down its entire debt – and then some. Coalinga City Manager Marissa Trejo told The Fresno Bee the sale would “immediately bring Coalinga’s general fund into the black.”
“It’s like what the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”
The decision by the Coalinga City Council came on a 4-1 vote in July that allows for commercial cannabis cultivation in the city. A hearing before the vote drew a relatively small group of residents opposed to legalizing medical marijuana, but they remained silent throughout the discussion.
Educating residents on benefits of legalization
Keough credited that to the city’s campaign to educate residents about the benefits of a local legal marijuana industry. That industry, the city promised, would permit cultivation for retail sale in other parts of the state but would not allow those sales in Coalinga itself. A vote to legalize dispensaries could come later.
“You can never do anything that satisfies everyone,” Keough said, “but we were pretty darn close to doing that.”
Council members voted unanimously in January to allow marijuana grows, deliveries, and dispensaries. But they changed their minds after a backlash from local conservatives, instead pushing forward with a new plan that would only open the door to commercial farms.
Then in March, the council started negotiations with Ocean Grow to buy the vacant jail and turn it into a manufacturing center for marijuana concentrates. In addition to the sale price, the company initially agreed to pay $2 million per year in rent and fees. A formal vote to allow cultivation in the city followed later that month.
“We appreciate Coalinga taking a chance not only on us, but on the industry,” Ocean Grown co-owner Casey Dalton told the Bee.