Some of the county's best-known and longest-running cannabis dispensaries have been told they'll have to close by June 30.
As Stanislaus County continues its permitting process for marijuana-related businesses, winners and losers are beginning to emerge. Seven retail marijuana dispensaries are moving forward in the final phase of application approval, while 11 have been cut from contention.
Earlier this month, county officials told the rejected dispensaries they would have to shutter by the end of June. About a half-dozen retailers, including prominent north Modesto establishments Jayden's Journey and NRC Holistic Health Services Clinic, are appealing the decision.
"We've been at the frontier of this the last five years; going to city council meetings, fighting locally, paying our taxes. The county told us we were the model," said Jayden's Journey CEO Jason David. "We've been fighting for so long to get everything done and to have this happen feels really unfair."
David said he was told they weren't moving forward because of issues with their application paperwork.
Stanislaus County Assistant Executive Officer Keith Boggs said since the November 2016 initiative passed legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, officials have moved forward with a "very conservative allowance strategy" for cannabis-related businesses. The board of supervisors agreed to allow up to seven retail dispensaries and up to 54 other businesses in the fields of cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and research within the county's jurisdiction.
Ultimately, the county received 61 applications across all the categories, including 19 for retail dispensaries. The county used a Sacramento-based consulting firm to review the packets and give each a grade. Qualifying businesses needed to score 80 percent or higher to move on to the next phase. In all, 30 businesses, including nine retailers, qualified after the scoring and background checks were completed.
Moving forward in the process are dispensaries Medallion Wellness and The People's Remedy both in Modesto, as well as Empire Health & Wellness, Bynate in Crows Landing and The Honest Choice in Denair and the delivery service Truleaf Inc. Two other Modesto dispensaries which are not currently operating, Genezen and Phenos, have also been approved for the final phase. One additional delivery service also passed, but withdrew its application.
Surrounding cities like Riverbank and Ceres are handling their own permitting, separate from the county. Modesto also is completing its application procedure for the up to 10 dispensaries it will allow within the city limits.
Eleven of the rejected county applicants have filed an appeal, including six storefront dispensaries. Boggs said the deadline to file a final protest is May 31. After that a panel of county officials will listen to each applicant's appeal. He said it should take another month to have a ruling on the appeals.
Then by early July those businesses still in the running will be notified and Boggs said by the start of August the final permanent permits will start to be handed out. If there are still licenses available after the process is complete, they will go back to the application scores and draw from the ranked list. Boggs does not foresee the application process opening up again in the near future.
"The process has been very linear, conservative, fair and straightforward," Boggs said. "We are proud of it; it will have its bumps, but I think we’re in a good place."
Still, retailers like Dona Washington, owner of The Holistic Center on Yosemite Boulevard in Empire, said the process has been dispiriting, particularly as a female business owner. Her shop opened in May 2015 as a medical facility and switched over to medical and recreational at the start of the new year. She hired an independent consultant to complete her business plan paperwork, but the application still was rejected. She is appealing.
"We opened our doors in this industry and town three years ago," she said. "So it's frustrating now to be a female in this business and I look around now at all these men taking over the industry instead."
Jayden's Journey has launched a public letter-writing campaign on social media to support the dispensary. The Bee also has received over a dozen letters pleading for the shop to remain open. His company also has another dispensary, called Case's Journey, and a manufacturing plant in Ceres, which is in another municipal jurisdiction.
Jayden's Journey has gained national attention thanks to its signature Jayden's Juice, a CBD tincture product used to treat severe epilepsy and other ailments. CBD is a compound found in marijuana that many claim offers medicinal benefits without weed's other psychoactive properties.
Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes responded to the campaign with an open letter that laid out the permitting process. Each application was rated based on its business plan, neighborhood compatibility, safety and security procedures, air quality plan, and labor and employment plan.
Jayden's CEO David has become a fierce advocate for the medicinal use of marijuana and created Jayden's Juice to help his son, who has a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy. His Modesto dispensary now holds regular support groups for people with epilepsy, cancer and veterans with PTSD. He said they have clients as young as 5 months old and as old as 99.
"For us it's not just selling a product, we have relationships with these people. They're dying or suffering or sick," he said. "We're not just selling them cannabis, we're selling them smiles and hope. We've done so much to help the community. I think that should be taken in account in this process."