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Medical marijuana facility considered in Ceres after a limited change in attitude

After banning marijuana outlets for years, Ceres is considering an agreement for a medical marijuana facility that would produce alternative medicine for children with seizure disorders.

In describing the city’s new-found attitude toward marijuana, City Manager Toby Wells said Ceres will crack open a window rather than open the door to marijuana businesses in the new era of legalization in California.

City leaders are not open to dispensaries for medicinal or recreational pot, but next week the City Council could approve a 22,000-square-foot medical pot facility on Brew Master Drive in the Miller Industrial Park, south of Service Road and just west of Morgan Road.

It’s not a proposed dispensary where patients with cards would pick up their medicine, but a production facility with small-scale cultivation, curing, grading and extraction to make cannabis products.

The council on Monday will consider a three-year development pact in which the owner, JMR Management, would pay a total of $2.7 million in fees to the city. If no major problems arise, Ceres could consider other cannabis proposals on a case-by-case basis, officials said.

While keeping a lid on dispensaries, city leaders also are afraid that residential cultivation could become a mess in neighborhoods. They are working on a permit process and rules for people who want to grow the maximum six plants inside their homes allowed under Proposition 64, the recreational pot initiative approved by California voters in November.

Ceres is absolutely opposed to outdoor cultivation, Mayor Chris Vierra said, noting he doesn’t want the foul odor of marijuana plants to spoil family barbecues.

“I am open to (a medical marijuana facility) because I have some friends that have been dealing with some pretty dramatic medical issues and they have indicated it has changed their lives,” Vierra said. “It makes the issues they deal with a little more tolerable.”

The production facility would be developed under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015.

Mike Reynolds, a former Central Valley High School teacher and track coach, is spearheading the project with Jason David, who received national attention for a marijuana-based product that he says dramatically reduces his son’s seizures. The product, Jayden’s Juice, contains a marijuana ingredient called cannabidiol and is purchased by parents to treat children who suffer from intractable seizures due to epilepsy and other diseases.

The active ingredient is given to the children in drops and does not make them “high,” representatives said.

“We are looking for a place to produce the medicine for the kids,” said Reynolds, who says he never before imagined being in the cannabis business. “Ceres is my hometown. My goal is making sure we have a facility where I feel comfortable knowing my son has access to safe, alternative medicine.”

The facility will operate as a nonprofit cooperative, Kase Manufacturing, which was registered with the state this month. It is named after Reynolds’ 4-year-old son, Kase, who has a rare genetic deletion that causes epileptic symptoms.

While prescription drugs were ineffective, Reynolds said, cannabidiol reduced Kase’s seizures from several hundred a day down to five or 10. “He sleeps, he smiles and he is interactive,” Reynolds said.

The proposed agreement with the city would require 24-hour security, video surveillance and odor-control measures so the facility is not an annoyance to nearby businesses.

The facility would pay what the city is calling a service impact fee of $50,000 a month the first year, $75,000 monthly the second year and $100,000 monthly the third year.

Wells said the fee revenue would be socked away in the city general fund. The fees are justified by the level of monitoring and enforcement demanded by the project, the city says.

At a hearing Monday, Planning Commissioner Laurie Smith said the fee amounts assume a significant level of success from the business. Reynolds said that JMR Management is working on deals that will cover the fees for the first three years. The city and JMR would negotiate a new multiyear agreement when the first one expires.

Jason David said their dispensary in Modesto works with families from across the nation and from other countries. “We need safe access, we need safe medicine,” David said. “This facility will be ahead of its time for making this medication.”

Reynolds said the small amount of cultivation at the Ceres facility will maintain a marijuana strain for the 28-to-1 ratio of cannabidiol to the marijuana ingredient THC that is reputedly most effective. From 20 to 40 employees would work at the proposed facility on cultivation, research, processing and delivery of products. Jayden’s Juice is priced at $80 per bottle on online promotions.

Several business people from Miller Industrial Park attended Monday’s hearing of the Planning Commission, which recommended approval of the project. Some expressed concerns about odors, water discharges from the facility and potential burglaries by marijuana seekers. “We are not opposed to the business; we just have concerns,” said Belinda Wendland, a property owner.

Reynolds said his involvement in the venture came from raising a special needs child. The former school teacher subscribes to Christian values and is a member of CrossPoint Community Church in Modesto.

“I must be one of the most conservative guys in cannabis,” Reynolds said.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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