From Prison To Pot: How One California Town Is Taking An Abandoned Prison And Turning It Into A Marijuana Processing Facility

Barbed wire is seen at the closed Claremont Custody Center along West Gale Avenue on March 9, 2016, in Coalinga, Calif. The City Council voted Thursday to sell the closed facility for use as a marijuana oil extraction facility.

Prison To Pot: California Town Votes To Turn Unused Prison Facility Into A Marijuana Oil Extraction Facility

In judo, practitioners are taught to use the weight and momentum of their opponents to their own advantage. Rather than push back against the force of the opponent, you redirect it in such a way that it assists your own cause.

The town of Coalinga, California has come up with a unique plan that smacks of judo, one in which the town will be able to overcome a multi-million dollar deficit in one fell swoop while simultaneously putting a former prison facility to good use.

And they have medical marijuana to thank for it all.

The Coalinga City Council voted 4-1 the other day to immediately allow the commercial cultivation of marijuana within city limits, and at the same time approved the sale of the city’s dormant prison for $4.1 million to a company called Ocean Grown Extracts, which has plans to convert the facility into a cannabis oil extraction plant. With a reported debt of $3.3 million to $3.8 million, the sale immediately puts the town’s books back in the black.

Following months of back and forth and fierce opposition form some quarters, the resulting deal was one that the city fathers felt they could be proud of.

“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’ ” said Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough in an interview following the vote. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

A unanimous city council vote granted approval of medical marijuana cultivation, deliveries and dispensaries back in January, but following an outcry from church groups, community members, the school dsitrict and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, they took a step back and reassessed.

Adopting a more cautious, accommodating approach, they took several months to hold special meetings and workshops designed to educate residents about the medical cannabis industry. Afterward, they moved forward with the plan again, this time with significantly less opposition.

Ocean Grown owner Casey Dalton said she was pleased with the council’s vote, and is looking forward to having the plant up and running within six months.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer 100 jobs and make safe medicine available for patients,” she said. “We appreciate Coalinga taking a chance not only on us, but on the industry.”

Coalinga is a fine example of how government can and must adapt to new realities, and how they can do so to their own advantage. Rather than continuing to fight moldy old Reagan-era battles, it’s time more municipalities take on a more judo-like outlook.

As Ocean Grown co-owner and Casey’s brother Kelly Dalton said:

“The truth of the plant is our best evidence.”

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