Needles Grass Options: Co-ops And Grow-ops

Tona Belt, a Republican, is distinguishing herself as the Needles City Council candidate who opposes the growing cannabis industry in Needles, or so the rumor goes. Belt has not replied to an inquiry from the Sentinel to verify that report. Jerry Telles, another candidate vying for one of the three seats on the council, in contrast has expressed his strong support of the industry. Telles, in fact, is a part of the industry, being co-owner in a multi-state operation known as Paradise Wellness.
“I want to get elected to make sure that all the work that we have done in this city to provide a pathway for this important agricultural industry in our community does not get undone,” he messaged in an interview at the local “Desert Bones Democratic Club” meeting.
Under California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, groups can get a state license to grow, sell, manufacture, distribute or test the product. According to John Pinkney, the City of Needles’ legal council, “If you are a tester, you cannot engage in any of the other four acts, otherwise, you can operate in two of the other four areas in the range of permitted activities, that is, if the community you are operating in allows for it.”
Telles asserted, “This is an agricultural commodity and there is now a legitimate permit and application process set up in our community which is part of the entire regulatory process involving environmental review and taxation, Our city is now and will benefit from the 10% tax on gross revenues and the sale of electric and water utilities to the farms. The city can use this money to make improvements, pave streets, enhance our points of entry and rebuild the community. I don’t want the opportunity that we have to go away which could happen if someone is elected that doesn’t support the industry.”
It appears that Telles doesn’t really have that much to worry about with regard to the industry being threatened with dissolution by a new council. Former councilwoman Linda Kidd and the two incumbents who are rerunning, Tom Darcy and Shawn Gudmundsen, all Republicans, are all on the record as having voted for at least some of the ordinances that provide the groundwork for the current regulatory system in Needles. The Sentinel has attempted to contact three other candidates running for office – Tim Terrel, Clayton Hazlewood and John Wagner. The phone numbers for all three were disconnected or went continuously unanswered.
Ruth Musser-Lopez, who was also interviewed at the Desert Bones meeting along with Telles, stated that she does not oppose the medical marijuana industry and agreed with Telles that the potential benefit of the new agricultural industry in the community could change the complexion of the town. She added that “while I see the potential economic benefit and support it and the current regulatory process the city has put in place, it is still a fledgling process and there are bound to be some details that need to be worked out.” She added that, “being detached from the industry, I would be in a place to bring fairness and equity with regard to the decisions being made on the council level. There would not be a conflict for me to vote on issues that might arise involving operations.”
To the issue of potential conflict of interest, both Jerry Telles and his company’s attorney who accompanied him at the meeting vociferated that it would not be a conflict for the owner of one of the cooperatives, such as himself, to vote on matters that affected the industry in general as long as the matter did not specifically impact his own business.
Telles’ attorney is Sara Presler, the twice elected former myor of Flagstaff, Arizona. During her tenure as Flagstaff mayor, that city’s police department had a relatively aggressive enforcement policy, which included making a fair number of marijuana trafficking and possession arrests. Presler lives on Arizona side of the Colorado River.
Needles City Officials, in contrast to many or most other municipal officials in California, have embraced marijuana legalization and accessibility as a boon to the local economy. aNeedles City Manager Rick Daniels, earlier reported other benefits on top of what Telles expressed.
Needles owns and operates its own water and electrical utilities. Thus, Daniels suggested, the 24/7 use of electricity and water at the grow-ops year round will represent an influx of cash into the city. Such operations, he said, would employ twenty to 25 workers. He said the industry could be modulated to provide a relatively even cash flow, with harvesting occurring on a continual basis with planting scheduled on a coordinated schedule so that crops mature continuously.
The city has built into its licensing requirements for such facilities that it gets 10% tax on gross revenues.
Daniels believes it can serve as a magnet for grow operations in a way that other cities cannot, based on its existing licensing processes and its ability to offer growers lower rates on electricity – ten cents a kilowatt – and water than are available through other suppliers.
An incentive, according to Telles, is that medical marijuana cannot be imported from out of state, as this would be a violation of interstate commerce laws. With federal laws requiring that the product be grown in California, Telles said that Needles, with its inexpensive land and a cooperative government is the perfect location – paradise, he called it – for marijuana farmers. “Few cities provide the pathway that we do,” he crowed.
Telles characterized those against marijuana liberalization as “special interests.”
Marijuana is a panacea, he insisted. “Before people needing this drug were in the shadows. Under the compassionate use act, it become legit. “
He said the operations will generate jobs.
The Teamsters Union, which represents county workers, is positioning itself to represent marijuana industry employees. Union officials will push to make union membership for marijuana cultivation and sales workers mandatory and require that they receive hourly wages of not less than $20 and full medical, dental, and retirement benefits.

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