This city founded on the discovery of a petroleum field is looking to strike it rich in a new oil industry. Instead of relying on the black gold pulled from the ground for jobs and economic stability, Coalinga could find future wealth in marijuana by transforming its vacant state prison into a cannabis oil cultivation and manufacturing operation.
Last month, Coalinga Mayor Ron Ramsey and City Manager Marissa Trejo fielded a proposal from Southern California-based Ocean Grown Extracts to turn the 77,000-square-foot Claremont Custody Center into a marijuana growing operation.
The City Council supports the plan, which has numerous economic benefits, but faces a tough battle to convince Coalinga’s 13,000 citizens to become the first community to accept medical cannabis in the conservative central San Joaquin Valley.
Trejo spelled out the economic benefits at a March 3 council meeting.
The lease and tax payments from renting the old prison to Ocean Grown would add nearly $2 million to the city’s bank account each year. The company also would provide 100 full-time jobs with benefits – a number that would double if California legalizes recreational pot use in November.
Trejo said Ocean Grown agreed to work with Coalinga police Chief Michael Salvador, who was an outspoken critic of the council’s unanimous decision in January to allow marijuana cultivation, distribution and deliveries within the city. The company would install security cameras and link them to the police dispatch center, as well as perform background checks on all employees and license its activities with the city.
When asked by an audience member about the idea, Salvador refused to comment on the proposal – saying he was not aware of its specifics. Salvador also declined to be interviewed for this story.
Ocean Grown may also use the city’s airport for shipping, Trejo said.
The company would sell wholesale to dispensaries all cannabis oil made in Coalinga. Casey Dalton, Ocean Grown’s representative who visited Coalinga, confirmed that the company was in preliminary talks with the city. She declined to comment any further.
Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough was the first council member to address marijuana with the group of around 20 people assembled at the meeting.
“People are hurting – the oil industry is losing jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about 100 full-time jobs, and no dope in the streets.”
Keough then addressed the bottom line for a city that, according to its most recent audit in 2014, is running a $3.3 million budget deficit: “One company could take us out of the red in three years.”