Report Sheds Light On Concerns Regarding Cannabis Industry In California City

Photo Credit: Anthony Faiola

The Kern County Grand Jury has produced another report on California City, this time looking at the cannabis industry there.

In 2016, the City Council approved an ordinance allowing commercial medical marijuana cultivation in town. Since then, around 200 permits have been issued and the city has earned $2.3 million in permit fees, according to documents provided to the jury.

With city bills related to the permitting process taken into account, the revenue amount is reduced to $892,574.51. Only one permitted business has opened so far.

While that may seem to be good news for the city, the grand jury said it has concerns after conducting its investigation, specifically that there may be illegal growing taking place and that law enforcement may not have enough manpower to fully deal with the issue.

The jury said it learned of multiple complaints given to the city in 2017 regarding suspicious activity in an unoccupied building not zoned for cannabis. The jury said interviewees noticed heavy foot traffic in and out of the building, multiple vehicles parked there at all hours and a truck transporting barrels of water.

The smell of marijuana coming from the building was also noticed by interviewees.

A red tag was placed on the building by a code enforcement officer, marking it as being not properly permitted or not safe to occupy. However, the report said city officials removed the tag shortly after the owner, an unnamed City Council member with a cannabis permit for the property, complained.

The fire marshal and code enforcement officers were advised by the city not to return to the property, the jury said.

“The complaints alleged a conflict of interest may exist,” the jury said.

The grand jury said the property owner said that marijuana was not being grown in the building nor is it allowed. They did say they were growing hemp for cannabidiol oil, an ingestible supplement that provides various health benefits.

However, the jury said it would be too difficult to tell if that is really the case.

“The only accurate way to determine if a plant is marijuana or hemp is through lab testing, making it impossible to determine by sight which product is being cultivated,” the report said.

As of April 18, the jury said the building has been vacated.

The jury also received complaints about a hemp farm that appears to be connected to the abandoned building. The code enforcement department said it had no knowledge of any permitted hemp farms in the city but were “told by city officials to leave it alone, it is only hemp,” the report said.

While medical marijuana cultivation may be allowed, the jury said many people are still trying to grow cannabis illegally. According to the report, the police department has shut down more than 50 illegal grow houses, arrested more than 20 people in connection with them and seized about 1,640 pounds of illegal marijuana.

“The already short-staffed and overworked police department is over-burdened by the demands placed on them by the onslaught of illegal growers that invaded the city,” the jury said.

The jury recommends that the city conduct an independent audit of its permitting fees, consolidate the permitting process to one department under one supervisor and contract with a testing lab to determine whether plants being grown are cannabis or hemp, among others.

The city has 90 days to provide a written response to the report.