‘Cannabis super center’ planned for vacant California mall

‘Cannabis super center’ planned for vacant California mall

An abandoned mall could soon become a 29-acre “cannabis supercenter” in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert.

The Barstow City Council voted 3-1 to approve the project at a contentious Dec. 21 meeting that lasted nearly five hours. The development must win a second council vote next month before it can be fully approved.

The new development is located along one of California’s busiest traffic corridors, located about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. According to Victorville’s Daily Press, a cannabis real estate firm was marketing the “cannabis super center” as “the most unique green space property in the entire country” early last year.

The location is a former strip mall that has sat empty for nearly two decades, but a new developer has already broken ground on redeveloping the mall’s 24 different buildings into legal pot businesses. Initial plans include licensing 20 different pot farms, six cannabis distributors, five cannabis manufacturers and two retail distributors, according to a Barstow City Council agenda (some businesses would perform multiple functions).

The developer’s application also outlines plans to host temporary cannabis events and a cannabis lounge at the property, although it is not clear whether the developer or tenants have already secured licensing for these activities.

Public comments were largely negative against the project at last Wednesday’s council meeting.

Billie Braun, owner of local restaurant Billie’s Kitchen, said the development would worsen Barstow’s image as a “drug town.”

“Do we want this for our community on such a large scale? I’m not against marijuana, but I’m concerned about the scale at which this particular project is,” Braun said during the Dec. 21 meeting.

The free-standing mall sits on 29 acres near Interstate 15.

The free-standing mall sits on 29 acres near Interstate 15.

Screenshot via Google Earth

The local Christian community also seems opposed to the development. Bushawn Carpenter, a local pastor, said a group calling itself Barstow Christian Pastors is “vehemently opposed” to approving the cannabis complex. Joe Vail, a minister at the Mojave Desert Christian Church, said the approval of the project reminds him of when “Barstow was known as the meteorology capital of the world.”

“I would love to see a sign along Barstow Main Street up here that says Barstow belongs to Jesus,” Vail said during the Dec. 21 meeting. “I’m afraid if you put something like that, you’d say Barstow belongs to Satan. I’m not in favor of that at all.”

Barstow, like much of rural California, has been slow to embrace the legal cannabis industry. The city initially banned all cannabis shops, but later reversed course and approved its first pot shop in 2022. A year ago, the county sheriff’s office seized $1.1 million in cash from legal cannabis businesses, alleging that the businesses were involved in money laundering and federal drug crimes. In May, the county agreed to return all the money and acknowledged the companies were following state law.

Barstow’s 29-acre pot development has also followed a controversial path to approval.

The plans were embroiled in controversy after it was revealed the developer had made independent campaign contributions supporting multiple council members in their recent elections. Barstow’s attorney said the contributions do not appear to be a conflict of interest for any of the sitting members, according to the Daily Press.

The developer plans to bring 23 different cannabis businesses to the former mall, including multiple pot farms and dispensaries.

The developer plans to bring 23 different cannabis businesses to the former mall, including multiple pot farms and dispensaries.

screenshot via Google Maps

Last month, the project was delayed after Barstow city staff asked the city council to approve the entire development by voting on a single ordinance, rather than approving each individual business in the complex. That original “master developer agreement” ordinance only named the company that ran the entire development, not the individual pot businesses that leased space in the complex.

City staff said the original ordinance would streamline how the city interacts with development owners and did not violate the law. However, council members rejected that plan on November 21. Council member Carmen Hernandez said if all the businesses are approved without seeing the names of the businesses, “it will look like we’re doing a backroom deal.”

City staff then divided the master developer agreement into 23 separate ordinances representing all licensed businesses in the development. The council approved the ordinances on a 3-1 vote, with only Hernandez voting “no.”

The council must approve the ordinances a second time before the pot complex can gain full approval. There is some question as to whether that will happen, as council member Barbara M. Rose indicated she misunderstood the motion when she voted to approve the deal.

The city will make a significant amount of tax revenue if the development receives final approval. Each manufacturing and cultivation business agreed to pay the city an annual impact fee of $5 per square foot, which could run into the millions of dollars, while retail development and delivery businesses have agreed to pay city ​​3% of their total income. The 23 pot businesses have paid the city more than $420,000 in nonrefundable application fees.

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