The planned 29-acre “cannabis super center” would be near Interstate 15 about halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles
An abandoned outlet mall could soon be a new 29-acre “cannabis super center” 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 needs to earn a second council vote next month before it is fully approved.
The new development sits along one of California’s busiest traffic corridors, located about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A cannabis real estate firm was marketing the “cannabis super center” as “the most unique green zone property in the entire country” earlier last year, according to Victorville’s Daily Press newspaper.
The location is a former outlet mall that has sat vacant for nearly two decades, but a new developer has already broken ground on retrofitting the mall’s 24 different buildings into legal pot businesses. Initial plans include licensing for 20 different pot farms, six cannabis distributors, five cannabis manufacturers and two retail dispensaries, according to a Barstow City Council agenda (some businesses would perform multiple functions).
The developer’s application also described plans to host temporary cannabis events and a cannabis consumption lounge on the property, although it’s not clear whether the developer or tenants have already secured licensing for these activities.
Public comment was mostly negative against the project at last Wednesday’s council meeting.
Billie Braun, owner of the local restaurant Billie’s Kitchen, said that 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 this particular project is on,” Braun said during the Dec. 21 meeting.
The local Christian community also appears opposed to the development. Bushawn Carpenter, a local pastor, said that a group calling itself “Barstow Christian Pastors” is “adamantly opposed” to approving the cannabis business complex. Joe Vail, a minister at the Mojave Desert Christian Church, said that approving the project reminds him of when “Barstow was known as the meth capital of the world.”
“I would love to see a sign across Barstow Main Street up here that says Barstow belongs to Jesus,” Vail said during the Dec. 21 meeting. “I’m afraid if you put up something like this you’ll be saying Barstow belongs to Satan. I’m not in favor of this at all.”
Barstow, like much of rural California, has been slow to accept the legal cannabis industry. The city originally banned all cannabis shops, but later reversed course and approved its first pot shop in 2022. A year earlier, the county’s sheriff’s office seized $1.1 million in cash from legal cannabis businesses, claiming that the businesses were engaging in money laundering and federal drug crimes. In May, the county agreed to give all of the money back and admitted that the companies were following state law.
Barstow’s 29-acre pot development has also followed a controversial path towards approval.
The plans became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed that the developer had made independent campaign contributions supporting multiple council members in their last elections. Barstow’s attorney said that the contributions did 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.
Last month, the project was delayed after Barstow’s city staff asked the city council to approve the entire development by voting on one single ordinance, instead of approving each individual business in the complex. This original “master developer agreement” ordinance only named the company running the entire development, not the individual pot businesses leasing space at the complex.
City staff said the original ordinance would streamline how the city interacts with the development’s owners and did not violate the law. However, council members rejected that plan on Nov. 21. Councilmember Carmen Hernandez said if all of the businesses were approved without seeing the business names, “it would look like we’re doing a backdoor deal.”
City staff then split up the master developer agreement into 23 separate ordinances representing all of the licensed businesses in the development. The council approved the ordinances in a 3-1 vote, with only Hernandez voting “no.”
The council needs to pass the ordinances a second time before the pot complex wins full approval. There’s some question of whether that will happen, after Councilmember Barbara M. Rose indicated she had misunderstood the motion when she voted to approve the deal.
The city stands to make a considerable amount of tax revenue if the development does receive final approval. Each manufacturing and cultivation business agreed to pay the city a $5 per square foot annual impact fee, which could run into the millions of dollars, while the development’s retail and delivery businesses have agreed to pay 3% of their overall revenue to the city. The 23 pot businesses have already paid the city more than $420,000 in nonrefundable application fees.