A Los Angeles-based company is proposing a 600,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic medical marijuana grow that would be the largest in the United States.
The proposed grow would be located in one of the largest vacant buildings in Chico, California, located at Chico Municipal Airport Industrial Park, once occupied by clothing distributor Koret, reports Toni Scott of the MediaNews Group
The property is being eyed by Plant Properties Management, LLC, which has hopes of creating a business model unparalleled in the medical marijuana industry.
Jason Oh, 36, founding partner of the venture, said the facility would lease space to local growing collectives, allow them to grow medical marijuana in a highly controlled and secure space, and then test the cannabis for quality and track it for taxation purposes.
The entire operation would be monitored around the clock by security officials, according to Oh. No distribution of marijuana would occur on-site.
The city of Oakland recently approved large-scale indoor medical marijuana production in a landmark decision, but proposed operations would be far smaller, filling a maximum of 100,000 square feet.
Chico’s marijuana growing facility would be the largest in the United States, according to Oh.
Plant Properties Management is also investigating a similar, but smaller, operation in Los Angeles.
Ensuring quality medicine for ailing individuals is the company’s main objective, according to Oh, who said he plans to work within existing law, including Prop 19, California’s November ballot initiative to tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults, if it passes.
“Our business model is intended to be a solution to problems in the industry,” Oh said. “It is intended to regulate medical marijuana, the way it should be.”
The plan would create 250 to 500 jobs in economically hard-hit Chico, according to Oh, with increased tax revenue for the city.
|Photo: NorCal Blogs
|Chico City Councilor Andy Holcombe: “From a jobs and business standpoint, in principle, it sounds like a good idea”
Chico County Councilor Andy Holcombe said that he could get behind the plan.
“If it actually creates jobs and tax revenue, it sounds like a promising business, just like any other business,” Holcombe said. “From a jobs and business standpoint, in principle, it sounds like a good idea.”
“Why not be part of the medical marijuana cluster that’s developing in California?” Holcombe asked. “Assuming it’s a legal use, it could be beneficial to our community.”
Oh maintains that the business would be legal. “We’re just leasing space in a controlled environment,” he said.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey and Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney disagree, however.
Ramsey claimed the facility would not be a legal operation based on information he was given.
“Although Proposition 215 allows for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes, it does not give the green light to mass marijuana production,” Ramsey said.
Maloney agreed, even claiming it was “ridiculous to think otherwise.”
“There is nowhere in the law that provides for what they’re proposing,” Maloney claimed.
There are also no provisions in the city’s zoning ordinance for the venture.
The abandoned Koret building, which has been vacant since it was vacated by the clothing business in 2007, is in an area zoned “airport manufacturing.”
With zoning laws prohibiting any use that is not explicitly stated, City Interim Planning Services Director Mark Wolfe claimed the type of operation Oh wants to create would not be allowed.
Wolfe also said the medical marijuana ordinance currently under consideration by Chico, which would regulate the cultivation, processing and distribution of cannabis, would still impede Oh’s plans.
The ordinance would only allow dispensaries to operate in “light manufacturing,” “general manufacturing” and “industrial” zones within the city.
Oh says the ordinance, which comes before the city Planning Commission in September, only applies to dispensaries, which his planned grow operation is not.
Even so, Oh is requesting the city include airport manufacturing in the ordinance to better accommodate his proposal and serve a need he said he sees in the community.
“There’s a huge demand for this,” Oh said. “The industry is just completely out of control. This would implement a solution.”
|Photo: Meghan Moriarty/The Orion
|Max Del Real, Chico Citizens Collective: “First off, anything out of Los
Angeles is not a good thing”
One local medical marijuana collective opposes the plan, however.
Max Del Real, a cannabis activist and spokesman for Chico’s Citizen Collective, a nonprofit dispensary at the forefront of city medical marijuana discussions, called Oh’s proposal “absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous.”
“It’s wrong on so many fronts,” Del Real said.
“First off, anything out of Los Angeles is not a good thing,” Del Real said, not winning any awards for logic despite what may be his good intentions.
“Los Angeles, right now, is not a model city in terms of effective medical marijuana regulation,” Del Real said.
“Los Angeles, if anything, is what we don’t want to become,” Del Real said, not mentioning the fact that Los Angeles assuredly doesn’t have any 600,000-square-foot grow houses.
“This just lends itself to what we have been asking the city for nine months,” Del Real said. “Chico needs a medical cannabis ordinance to protect herself from outside entities.”
“If anything, this is a wake-up call for Chico to work with those people that are of our community,” Del Real said.
Chico City Manager Dave Burkland isn’t welcoming the proposed business with open arms, either.
Burkland said he recently met with “a number of individuals associated with the enterprise” at their request. He was not convinced of the facility’s merits.
“Frankly, we discouraged it,” Burkland said.
“This is not something we would support from a city staff level,” Burkland said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for our city and I don’t think it’s the best use of that building.”
But there are no other businesses lining up to use the building. Owners Steve and Julie Brown have defaulted on a loan with an unpaid balance of $8.5 million on the structure, according to a legal notice published Thursday in the Chico Enterprise-Record.
The building will be sold at a trustee’s sale on September 2 on the steps of the Butte County Courthouse, according to the legal notice.
That action could be delayed or cancelled if the financial situation changes.
According to Oh, bringing in an interested business to fill that unoccupied space, create hundreds of jobs and boost the city’s struggling economy is a smart move.
“Taxes help a city function,” Oh said. “With the recession, the city is seeing lower tax revenue. We could fill that void.”
But as much as he would like to see Chico rise to become a national leader in the medical marijuana movement, if the facility faces significant hurdles, it might have to look elsewhere, according to Oh.
“We’re not going to come in a city if the police chief or district attorney is going to kick our doors down,” Oh said. “We want the city’s blessing.”