The Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga houses around 2,300 prisoners and employs about 1,000 area residents, but the local economy was hit hard by the 2011 closure of the smaller, city-owned Claremont Custody Center. In a March 3, 2016 Coalinga City Council meeting, Mayor Ron Ramsey and City Manager Marissa Trejo fielded a proposal to repurpose the now-vacant Claremont facility.
In what could be described as the height of irony, Southern California-based Ocean Grown Extracts submitted a plan to convert the empty prison, once used to house hundreds of drug offenders, into a large-scale cannabis oil manufacturing operation. This is not the first time a city has considered such a use for a former prison. In 2014, businessman Nick Erker unsuccessfully approached the Brush City, Colorado council with a plan to convert the vacant High Plains Correctional Facility into a marijuana farm. [See: PLN, Apr. 2015, p.63].
Ocean Grown’s proposal received initial support from the Coalinga City Council, which acknowledged numerous economic benefits for the town, including at least 100 full-time jobs and nearly $2 million in tax and lease revenue. The city also considered the potential for the company’s growth should California legalize recreational marijuana. Mayor Pro-Tem Patrick Keough addressed the bottom line for a city that, according to a 2014 audit, is running a $3.3 million budget deficit: “One company could take us out of the red in three years. People are hurting – the oil industry is losing jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about 100 full-time jobs, and no dope in the streets.”
Despite the council’s interest, the plan faces an uphill battle. The issue could go to a public vote, and would require majority support from citizens in the traditionally conservative San Joaquin Valley town.
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