Recreational marijuana sales began in Stanislaus County on schedule this week, giving adults like Sam Parsons a chance to buy weed without fear of breaking the law.
Parsons parked outside the The Holistic Center in Empire on Tuesday and produced an ID for two security guards.
“It’s the freedom of it,” said Parsons, who recently moved from Tracy to Modesto. “It was illegal for so long for stupid reasons.”
The November 2016 statewide initiative that legalized cannabis use for adults 21 and older in California called for commercial sales to begin Monday.
Donna Washington, owner of The Holistic Center, said she was not aware of any dispensaries in the county that were issued a temporary state license for retail sales. The Empire business and certain other dispensaries began recreational sales on New Year’s Day under a temporary county amnesty for eligible business owners that apply for permits.
“We opened (Monday morning) with about six people in line outside,” Washington said. Most were 55 to 60 years old and regulars of the medical pot dispensary, but on Tuesday newcomers such as Parsons were arriving to make purchases.
Greenleaf Solutions on South Seventh Street in Modesto also began recreational sales.
“We get a lot of people who have been using it,” Assistant Manager Ruben Alvarez said. “So far, we have not seen too many new people who are just getting into it. Some people come in and look at the prices and walk out.”
At Greenleaf, an eighth of an ounce was priced at $10 to $25, or up to $45 for indoor flowers packed with more potency. An eighth of an ounce can be rolled into four to five regular-size joints, the assistant manager said.
The state Bureau of Cannabis Control said temporary state licenses for retailers, distributors, microbusinesses and testing labs were in effect as of Monday. Donna Washington was not aware of any temporary state licenses issued to businesses in Stanislaus County.
Keith Boggs, county assistant executive officer, offered an explanation Tuesday, saying the county was allowing recreational sales under an amnesty strategy.
In October, the county accepted registrations from 117 people who expressed an interest in local cannabis permits. Those business owners are also obligated to apply for the required state license.
In the past few weeks, the Bureau of Cannabis Control has been asking local jurisdictions for an OK to grant 120-day licenses to applicants. Boggs said that if the dispensary was in operation before November 2016, the county is not responding to the state inquiry and “they will default to the 120-day state license.” The county will tell the state to deny the temporary state license if the dispensary opened later than November 2016.
In the next several months, Stanislaus County will give a thorough review to local permit requests and ultimately approve 61 permits for cannabis operations in the unincorporated area, including seven for dispensaries.
The county has vowed to shut down any non-permitted dispensaries that are operating after the seven permits are issued.
Heather Graves, a spokewoman for Modesto, said city staff members were not sure if any dispensaries inside the city had received a temporary state license.
The city plans to issue permits for up to 10 dispensaries, but the City Council recently decided to ban retail pot sales in the downtown area. Modesto expects to start issuing the permits in mid-February and, like the county, will collect fees or taxes on cannabis sales.
In the meantime, it does not sound like Modesto police will crack down on dispensaries that are selling without a state license.
Any dispensaries that are not permitted will be subject to enforcement, Graves said. “It will be enforced through code enforcement as an unfair business practice,” she said. “The bigger issue is going to be the black market. We anticipate having a team that will include police and code enforcement and an attorney to shut those businesses down.”
While the California adult-use initiative passed by a comfortable margin, the “yes” vote for Proposition 64 was only 50.2 percent in this county. Stanislaus County leaders say they reluctantly repealed a county ordinance that had banned medical pot dispensaries prior to Proposition 64 and promise the county will have fewer cannabis businesses after the maximum 61 permits are issued.
Washington, who wants a county permit for her business, has made an effort to put a kind face on the medicinal dispensary in Empire, which has a list of 7,000 clients.
The business contributes to a program providing shoes and socks for disadvantaged Empire schoolchildren and donates flashlights and batteries to the homeless, Washington said
The former bartender said she often witnessed violence between customers in her former job, but nothing like that happens in running a pot dispensary.
Employee Dustin Alexander said he met Washington while fishing for cans in a trash bin next to the business. He started sweeping and cleaning up around the place and now works in the back office and behind the counter of The Holistic Center.
Alexander, who was formerly addicted to opiate pills, said he used a chewable cannabis product in breaking free from methadone. The job gives him focus and stability and provides an income for supporting his wife and 9-year-old son, he said.
Parsons said he hopes that marijuana customers will use the products responsibly, and not get behind the wheel if they are under the influence.
“As long as people are responsible, there should not be a problem,” Parsons said.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16