More than three years after recreational marijuana use was legalized in California, a large-scale cannabis development in Lockeford became one of the first to gain approval in San Joaquin County.
The San Joaquin County Board Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve the development agreement for a commercial cannabis business park at 12470 East Locke Road that would include cultivation, distribution, manufacturing and retail operations on 371,918 square feet of property.
Supervisor Chuck Winn, who serves the Lockeford area, cast the dissenting vote.
At previous meetings to discuss the project, including the Lockeford Municipal Advisory Council and San Joaquin County Planning Commission, the project applicants, Reno-based NRC Equity Fund 1, did not have any support from the community or cannabis advocates.
But on Tuesday, support for the business park outweighed the opposition for the first time since the project had been announced, including Lisa Freeman, who owns a business next to the proposed site.
“We think it’s been vetted,” she said. “It’s a legal business, and as a business owner, it just seems it meets all the criteria the county is putting on it. It should bring revenue and jobs to the area, which is badly needed.”
While those who have been in opposition of the project have cited concerns such as increased traffic and decreased safety, Lockeford resident Jane Loney said in a letter to the board read by clerk Rachel DeBord that there was nothing to suggest the business poses any kind of threat to the community.
“This has passed every safety, environmental and traffic study required,” she said. “This is a legitimate private enterprise which will benefit the entire community by creating jobs and generating tax dollars. I ask all of you support this, as not to do so is obstructionistic and against the spirit of free enterprise, which has made our country the success that it is.”
Mandy Tingler owns three cannabis businesses in Sacramento and sits on the National Cannabis Association’s board of directors. She said the state is expecting the cannabis industry to generate as much as $5 billion in revenue over the next five years.
In addition, she said the industry was able to create more than 200,000 jobs since cannabis and marijuana had been legalized, and the project could create similar employment for the county’s homeless population.
“In a small community like Lockeford, even a small minuscule piece of that money would be incredibly powerful,” Tingler said. “Not to mention that that facility alone, I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, would not only be the largest taxpayer in Lockeford, but perhaps one of the largest ones in the entire county. That is very powerful influence right there.”
The project would be completed in two phases over five years, the first of which includes building four greenhouses totaling 110,610 square feet and a 15,120-square-foot nursery. This first phase would also convert an existing 19,872-square-foot building into a processing and storage facility, along with distribution and manufacturing uses.
A second existing structure totaling 13,226 square feet would be used as an employee break room, as well as mobile delivery services, cold storage and drying uses.
Zach Drivon, the Stockton attorney representing NRC Equity Fund 1, has stated in recent public meetings that the first phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
“What we’re trying to do here, and what we’ve been trying to do here for the last three years is promote sound policy here in the county,” he said Tuesday. “We plan to utilize this grossly underutilized and historic site to its best use to generate jobs and revenue in this multi-billion dollar industry right here at home. The project has not come without criticism. We’ve done our best to provide community outreach as well as due diligence to answer any questions and assuage any concerns that there may be here.”
But opponents of the project were not convinced. A handful of Lockeford residents raised concern over water usage, lighting, noise and odor, as well as the potential for increased criminal activity.
Betsy Robinson called cannabis a gateway drug that led individuals to harder narcotics or pharmaceuticals. She said her neighborhood already has “drug addicts” roaming through the area checking the doors of parked cars so they can either break in or steal the vehicle.
The project would only invite more of these individuals to the area, she said.
“A ‘no’ vote could influence life, a ‘yes’ vote could influence the death of many people. Is the tax money income for San Joaquin County from the cannabis park worth the lives of thousands of young people? Haven’t we had enough death from drugs and drug-impaired car accidents? San Joaquin County has seen many deaths from suicides by young people who are on drugs. And you are going to help them if you vote yes. Mental illness such as schizophrenia has ruined the lives of many children and parents by becoming addicted to cannabis. It starts right there. You would be promoting this.”
Patti Stetson, president of the Lockeford MAC, said the project is less than a mile from a community of 1,000 property owners and their families, two senior mobile home parks and rural property owners on a two-lane rural road without nearby highway access or traffic signals.
With phased construction over five years and multiple daily vehicle deliveries using only cash, Stetson said the business’ drivers will be easy targets for thieves and the project would disrupt the community.
“We see no positive outcome for the use of the property as a use of a cannabis business.” Stetson said.
Winn agreed with opponents, and before voting against the project he addressed Tingler’s comments that the project would be a financial boon, stating 50% of the revenue generated from a cannabis business is directed toward children’s programs, and the rest goes into a general fund to be allocated as supervisors see fit.
The community of Lockeford, he said, would not directly receive any tax revenue form the business.
“The fact is we can argue on both sides with regards to the benefits or the hazards or risks involved n cannabis use,” he said. “I don’t see any positive use of marijuana. I understand the medicinal aspect of it, because we’ve been doing that since 1996. I don’t think this is a good thing for the county to support visibly or otherwise.”