This city in the San Joaquin Valley, where the wealth gap is yawning even by California standards, has long been a destination for immigrants and refugees, many with agricultural expertise or a willingness to work in the almond and citrus orchards that made many here rich.
It is a working-class town and a flat pass-through place for tourists heading to Yosemite and the Sierras, which rise in the middle distance to the east, capped with snow now after a stormy winter. The West Side is the historical home to the city’s African American community.
The city’s mixed character is reflected in its landmarks. There is a Rosa Parks Interchange and a Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway, a Buddhist temple next to a Pentecostal church that celebrates Mass in Spanish, vast orange groves stretching out between strip malls.
“Fresno is still a very conservative city where even its Democrats are blue-dog, traditional family-values Democrats,” said Clint Olivier, a registered Republican and former city councilman who pushed through the city’s cannabis policy. “The city has been progressive in its thinking about cannabis policy, but now we need the right regulations to make it work.”
The city also has been late. California voters endorsed medical marijuana more than two decades ago. But only after voters approved recreational use in 2016 did the city begin licensing medical dispensaries.
The seven cannabis retail outlets the city plans to license this year would still operate under medical marijuana rules. Those stores generate far less revenue than ones open to recreational users, and there will be a push to make sure that transition from medical to recreational eventually happens.
In November, city voters easily passed a measure to collect taxes on cannabis. Ten percent of the projected $10 million annual revenue — about $1 million a year — will go into a “community benefit fund,” money that could be used to build up neighborhoods run down by drugs.
“This is the social justice for us,” said Gidai Maaza, a mental-health therapist who is seeking a cannabis license as part of the People’s Dispensary, a national for-profit organization with retail dispensaries licensed through local residents. “This is reparation.”
The city expects about 10 applicants for each of its initial seven licenses. Who gets them — and how that should be judged — is a process under development. The line is already forming…..
image….Aaron Foster II, shown across the street from his aunt’s home in Fresno, Calif. Foster is working with the People’s Dispensary Fresno, an organization helping secure investments and dispensary licenses to members of the community. Social equity is at the core of the group’s mission. (Mason Trinca/For The Washington Post)