A California city in the Mojave Desert will convert its abandoned outlet mall into a “cannabis super center,” with plans to erect nearly two dozen marijuana farms and multiple retail fronts beside “stores, entertainment, and supermarkets.”
The Barstow City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday night to approve the 23 cannabis licenses tied to the project, SFGATE reported. The property’s developer already has started construction on the 29-acre complex, which is expected to have 330,000 square feet of cultivation space, making it home to one of the largest cannabis grow operations in the United States.
The development received criticism that “out-of-town investors with high-level political connections have been marketing, funding, and even completing months of construction on a bet of easy permit approvals since before Barstow’s first cannabis-biz applications were filed in December 2021,” Victorville’s Daily Press newspaper wrote in December.
The outlet reported that the crux of the contention has “focused less on the contents of applications and comprehensive agreements before the city” than “how much more time and vetting the city should use to scrutinize those agreements and the entities behind them.”
In addition to the 20 farms, initial plans filed with the city include six distribution companies, four manufacturing companies, and two retail dispensaries across 24 buildings.
Jason Piazza, director of real estate with Santa Ana-based WeCann, the project’s leasing agent, said the intent has been to create a “cannabis-centric mall” with consumption lounges and a cannabis museum, though those details are not included in the plans filed with the city.
Concerns about the amount of water and electricity it would take to sustain the desert venture were also raised during the meetings.
In December, General Manager of Environmental Services Kody Tompkins said that the developer was responsible for addressing utility usage, not the planning commission. Tompkins also noted that cannabis operators were required to capture and reuse water as much as possible.
Councilmember Carmen Hernandez, who voted against the mall, said Tuesday night that the absence of applicants at the local planning commission meetings as well as the urgency to approve the plans could paint the council as one open to corruption.
“It is unknown who in the city gave direction to the city attorney to work with the developer – who works for both the property owner and the applicants – to work on a master lease for the outlets without council consent,” she said. “If it was done in closed session, then it’s another backdoor deal.”
Hernandez said that WeCann was advertising the outlet store as a Barstow cannabis mall as far back as November 2021, reporting that it had leased the entire mall and listing dates for the application window, as well as the square footage price listing, more than a year before approval from the city council or the planning commission.
She noted that owner of the outlet store, Barstow Outlets LLC, did third-party advertising for the 2020 campaigns of the two council members that voted to green light the project last month – Mayor Paul Courtney and Councilmember Barbara Rose.
“Instead of sending the applicants back to the planning commission for review and approval, they waived the procedures that all other cannabis applications have had to comply with,” Hernandez said.
She added that applications were taken for cannabis businesses before they were even approved by the state as LLCs or corporations, and “staff has not provided any evidence to show they rejected these applications or when they were actually considered valid applications.”
“I think that we need to have explanations and do this properly, so that we are not accused of being a city where kickbacks are given,” she said. “I don’t want no-one to question our integrity in this community.”