Council conflicted, will revisit ordinance in January

A conflicted Taft City Council voted Tuesday ban to all commercial cannabis activity in Taft -- retail, growing and manufacturing -- but that ban may be short-lived.

There is unanimous approval on the council to keep any retail cannabis out of the city, but indications that there may be a majority on the council to permit growing and manufacturing in the city if they get enough information from both the state and the City's insurer.

The Council voted 3-2 against the recommended ordinance from the Taft Planning Commission to unconditionally forbid any commercial cannabis business, and instead voted 4-1 to approve the ban on all cannabis with the provision that the issue be brought back to the Council for reconsideration on Jan. 2 -- the day after recreational use of cannabis and sales to anyone over 21 becomes legal.

Councilman Randy Miller made the motion that the Council approved with yes votes added by Orchel Krier, Josh Bryant and Renee Hill

Mayor Dave Noerr was the only no vote.

Earlier there was a move to permit a growing-manufacturing operation.

When the original motion to ban all cannabis-related commercial business was put on the floor, Miller made a motion to amend it to permit growing or manufacturing.

That motion was seconded by Hill but never voted on.

Noerr brought up an issue that temporarily, at least halted a move to vote to allow growing operation.

He said the city's risk management authority, which provides insurance, would not defend the city if it were sued in connection with a cannabis facility it permitted.

That derailed the conversation and prompted the council to ask for more information.

The decision not to make a final decision came after an hour of public testimony and an hour of comments and discussion from council members that included clips from the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Unlike Noerr, who was steadfast in his opposition to any cannabis activity, the other councilmen said they were conflicted over the best course of action.

And unlike Taft Planning Commission where public comment was almost unanimous in opposition to any form of cannabis, comments Tuesday night were balanced.
Seven people spoke in favor of allowing it.
Six spoke against.

Proponents of allowing pot businesses in town said the city needs jobs and a boost to its economy.

Ryan Coulter, who with his partner Travis Neumann wants to open a commercial marijuana growing and processing plant, compared their plan, which they say would create 60 additional jobs, to adding prisons to the area.

"All I ask you to do is look past the stigma of cannabis and look at the jobs that are literally begging to come to this city," Coulter said.

No one spoke in favor of retail sales in particular, and Neumman said it's not part of their business.

"Local sales within the city have nothing to do with out business," he said.

Other supporters said the argument of legalized marijuana is over. It ended when California voters approved Prop. 64 in 2016.

"The time to oppose pot on moral grounds was last year," said Chase Comfort.

Others spoke forcefully against legalizing anything to do with pot.

Ron Griffith, paster of the Westside Believers Fellowship, said he's seen too much misery caused by drugs and implored the Council to ban all pot businesses.

using marijuana means people can't pass drug screens to get jobs, he pointed out.

"We are well on our way to creating a whole generation of people who are uniquely unemployable," he said. "I say for the love of God stop this insanity."

"We have to stand up and say its not right," said Kelle Black. "I don't care if it is profitable. Don't sell your soul to the devil."

Bob Jordan spoke about a drug related tragedy that has scarred him.

His son, daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild were murdered in a drug rip-off 14 years ago.

"I don't want to have another parent in this town have to bury a child because of rotten dirty dope."

While the public had sharp opinions, Noerr was the only councilman sure of his stance.

He adamantly opposed any form of marijuana business.

"Commercial cannabis is a lit firecracker. "We ought to let this firecracker go off in somebody else's hands."

But the other four councilmembers admitted the were having trouble making up their minds.

"I just feel very conflicted about this," Bryant said.

"It's a tough deal," said Krier. "We didn't want this. The state put us here."

He said he was in a quandary.

Hill said she was opposed to allowing retail pot sales, but, echoing thoughts from others on the council, looked at the possibility of bringing jobs to Taft.

"We are losing middle class jobs everywhere. This could provide middle class jobs," she said.

But she also expressed caution.

"Anything we do here could come back to haunt us."

Miller talked about the uncertainty of one of the City's major income sources --the modified community correctional facility, which provides not only jobs but a steady revenue source.

But the facility has been closed once, and could close again on only 30 days notice, he said.

He said he doesn't see a problem with the City permitting a "well-run, regulated"cannabis facility that could provide $10,000 a month or more to the city in fees.

"I don't have an issue with that. I have an issue with pot shops," he said.