The shuttered San Joaquin Valley Prison in Coalinga, Calif., could become the Central Valley’s first cannabis oil production facility.
The Southern California company Ocean Growth Extracts has submitted a proposal to turn the abandoned, 77,000-sq.-ft. former prison into a state-of-the-art marijuana grow and cannabis oil plant, simultaneously bringing 100 jobs and nearly $2 million annually to the struggling city. The proposal was brought to the City Council by Coalinga Mayor Ron Ramsey and City Manager Marissa Trejo and supported by Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough, who addressed the Council in favor of the proposal.
While it may be surprising that the top political officers of a small, working class town in the historically conservative California Central Valley would support such a measure, a look at Coalinga’s economic history explains a lot. Coalinga was founded on a petroleum field on the far western side of Fresno County in the 1890s. While its mines are still operating today, they employ a mere 40 workers, which is not enough to validate being the main industry in a town of 13,000. Factor in the 1,000+ jobs lost when the prison closed, and you've got the makings of an economic nightmare.
“People are hurting — the oil industry is losing jobs,” Keough said in the meeting. “We’re talking about 100 full-time jobs, and no dope in the streets. One company could take us out of the red in three years.”
The most recent audit in 2014 found that the City of Coalinga operates with a $3.3 million budget deficit. With the additional tax revenue, leasing fees for the prison, and the 100 new jobs — a figure expected to double if California legalizes recreational marijuana this year, as is predicted — this facility would be a boon to the city and its residents.
The only question is, will the traditionally conservative town be willing to open its eyes, conquer its prejudices, and reap the rewards that this historic step could bring?