Where prisoners of the drug war once languished in cells, the California cannabis industry will soon create jobs — and fix the budget problems of an economically-depressed town.
A vacant prison in the Central Valley city of Coalinga — best known to most as a waypoint on Interstate-5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco — will be sold to a cannabis grower for $4.1 million for the purpose of converting the cellblocks to a massive cannabis oil extraction facility, according to the Fresno Bee.
The sale of the prison to Ocean Grown Extracts, an L.A.-based manufacturer of CO2 oil cartridges and other cannabis concentrates, was approved by a 4 to 1 vote at the Coalinga City Council. And the sale will “immediately” bring the struggling city’s finances into the black, according to the newspaper.
The city was up to $3.8 million in debt, City Manager Marissa Trejo said. According to Ocean Grown co-owner Casey Dalton, the prison-turned-lab could be up and running within six months. It’s expected to employ 100 people; already, Dalton’s received 200 job applications, she told the newspaper.
Like other struggling agricultural communities in corners of California, Coalinga has slowly turned to cannabis to fix its economic woes. Other places in the state, like Desert Hot Springs, have experienced unprecedented real estate booms after voting to allow vacant warehouse space to be turned into massive growhouses or extraction labs.
Earlier in the year, the city voted to allow medical marijuana cultivation, dispensaries, and delivery services — a rarity in red parts of the state like the Central Valley. That caused an outcry, so the city took a step back. Dispensaries and deliveries are still illegal, but could come online in the next few months, while an emergency ordinance will allow Ocean Grown to begin work on the prison to make it suitable to extract cannabis.
After six months of hot debate, there was no outcry — or comment of any kind — from the public before the council took its lopsided vote.
“It’s like the Grateful Dead said — what a long, strange trip it’s been,” Coalinga Mayor Pro-Tem Patrick Keough told the newspaper.
The prison is 77,000 square feet, according to the newspaper. It will have to remain gated, locked, and under security surveillance and must remain closed to the public. All cultivation operations in the city will have to remain discreet, with no signage or noticeable smells.
There is “one potential snag,” as the paper reported: water. The Central Valley has been bone dry for the past few years as California’s epic drought dragged on. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — a federal agency, and cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law — says it will “report” Coalinga if any water is diverted to the former prison.
There’s no backup plan to put the prison on city water if that happens, city officials told the Bee.