After six months of intense debate in Coalinga, the city council voted 4-1 last week to allow the commercial pot cultivation in the empty prison. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press file)

City escapes debt after selling its prison to a marijuana grower, OK’ing cultivation

The Green Rush is alive and well in central California — and finally in Coalinga, where the city council voted last week to allow commercial marijuana cultivation and sell its dormant prison to a company that will grow and process marijuana there.

Soon Ocean Grown Extracts will be growing and processing cannabis inside the former Claremont Custody Center, which the company purchased from the city of Coalinga for $4.1 million.

The sale of the empty prison “will immediately bring Coalinga’s general fund into the black,” according to a report from The Fresno Bee. “City Manager Marissa Trejo said Coalinga was $3.3 million to $3.8 million in debt.”

“It’s like what the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’ ” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough told The Bee. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

After six months of intense debate in Coalinga, the city council voted 4-1 last week to allow the commercial pot cultivation — and local citizens, who once pushed against having cannabis in their backyard, sat silently when Coalinga Mayor Ron Ramsey asked if the public had any comments. Mayor Pro Tem Keough said all the time and resources used to educate the community about medical marijuana and the cannabis industry ultimately changed citizens’ opinions about the project.

“You can never do anything that satisfies everyone,” Keough said, “but we were pretty darn close to doing that.”

The moves mark a major milestone in Coalinga’s “long, strange trip.” As the Bee reported:

The City Council unanimously approved medical marijuana cultivation, deliveries and dispensaries in January. The council backtracked slightly after an outcry from church groups, community members, the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. After several months of special meetings and workshops designed to educate residents about the medical cannabis industry, it moved forward once more.

In March, the council began negotiating with medical cannabis oil manufacturer Ocean Grown Extracts for a deal that would sell an empty prison, the Claremont Custody Center, to the grower and allow it to operate in Coalinga. The deal as first proposed would pay the city around $2 million per year in rent and fees.

Later that month, the council voted 4-1 to create the ordinances necessary to cultivate marijuana within the city. City Attorney David Wolfe said it would take at least several months to draw up the new laws.

Ocean Grown estimates the cultivation and processing plant will create 100 jobs in the area, and the company collected more than 200 resumes during a recent job fair.

“We appreciate Coalinga taking a chance not only on us, but on the industry,” Ocean Grown co-owner Casey Dalton told The Bee.