COALINGA, Calif. (KFSN) --Coalinga City Council members took a bold step forward Wednesday, moving to change a city-owned prison to a marijuana cultivation center. The city invited a marijuana cultivation business to present its manufacturing plan.
The special workshop on cannabis manufacturing ended around 10:00p.m. The City Council went into a closed meeting after that trying to decide what's best for this community.
For years, the people in Coalinga have relied on petroleum fields to thrive. Now they hope to strike it rich with a different kind of oil.
"We need some kind of revenue, we're hurting right now," said Ron Ramsey, Coalinga mayor.
Since January, the City Council has been exploring the possibility of commercial cannabis cultivation. On Wednesday, the city invited Ocean Grown Extracts, a California-based business, to present a proposal.
Questions and concerns continued for several hours. A Concerned resident said,"I'm more worried about the young people in this town than the money we make."
Ocean Grown is interested in purchasing what used to be Claremont Custody Center. The vision is to turn the 77,000-square foot facility into a growing operation. Mayor Ramsey said the sale would help Coalinga recover from $3.2 million of debt. But others think the city is only seeing dollar signs.
"We have a prison that is not being utilized. I mean, we've talked to LA County, the state, trying to bring inmates back here, and it didn't happen," said Ramsey.
"I think they are looking at this as a quick fix, and the problem with that is they won't be able to stop because they will be so addicted to this revenue," said Sheriff Margaret Mims, Fresno County Sheriff's Office.
The company laid out several benefits-- at least 55 local jobs and the prison structure would provide extra security.
In the end the council voted 4-1 in favor of turning the prison into a cannabis manufacturing facility.
"I don't want to wait until November and all these other cities jump into it too. There's a lot of cities hurting right now," said Ramsey.
The city is still negotiating the sale of the prison center. The final deal would only be approved once the ordnance passed. That process could take up to six months.