Raven Sharp was one of nearly 100 people who attended a meeting Tuesday required of people interested in opening a cannabis business in the city. He, like many in attendance, has experience in the industry.
Sharp opened Natural Remedies Consulting Holistic Health Services Clinic in unincorporated north Modesto nine months ago with the intent to offer a wider range of medical marijuana products, not just the smokable form.
NRC Holistic Health Services is one of about 20 dispensaries operating in the county. Current county code prohibits dispensaries; however, the law is not being enforced as the county, along with its nine cities, decides how to address the new voter-approved California law that allows the recreational use and commercial trade of marijuana.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act gives local municipalities the authority to regulate and tax the commercial trade.
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Oakdale is the county’s first city to accept proposals for all cannabis businesses allowed under the law – medical or recreational marijuana – from testing and distribution to cultivation and dispensaries. There is no guarantee, however, that the city will approve any of the applications and it could ultimately ban cannabis businesses in the city, like it did with medical marijuana businesses prior to the passage of the new law. City manager Bryan Whitemyer said the city’s request for proposals is an “information gathering process.”
Still, many people are willing to take that gamble and pay the nonrefundable $5,000 application fee.
Sharp said there is a lot of risk and uncertainty in the industry – still illegal under federal law as well – and that the fee is just one of those risks.
“As a business you should probably have that money to lose,” Sharp said. “If you don’t have that money to lose, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to keep a business alive.
“If, say, nobody comes in for a month, who’s going to carry that business if you don’t have that kind of money?”
Others, like Mark Gray, thought the fee was too high. He suggested using some of the dozens of experienced people who attended the meeting to form an advisory committee rather than using the application process to gather information.
“I felt like it was a bit premature, which is unfortunate,” Gray said.
“Educate first, implement second. Not the cart before the horse, as is the case with Oakdale.”
Gray, who operated a medical marijuana recommendation clinic in Modesto in 2011 and subsequently worked as a compliance officer for a large medical cannabis cultivation operation in Nevada, said he still might apply although he would prefer to be in Modesto and is awaiting a decision from its city council. He is interested in medical marijuana cultivation.
Other questions and concerns brought up at Tuesday's meeting included: whether businesses would be restricted to industrial areas or if they could operate in more visible locations like store fronts in shopping centers; whether they could include more than one business – like a testing facility and dispensary – under one proposal; and whether Oakdale will pursue a local tax on cannabis businesses.
Travis Cobarrubia said he cultivates marijuana in Calaveras County and has been in the industry for eight years, also operating two dispensaries. He said he will submit a proposal for both cultivation and dispensary and is willing to weather the unknowns, much like he has in Calaveras County.
Cultivation there was made legal through a registration process in May 2016, then threatened by special election intent on banning it, which ultimately was thrown out by the courts. The registration process is again at risk with three newly elected supervisors, who are seeking a new ordinance to reverse the first.
More than 700 people have registered, making marijuana cultivation the largest industry in the county with annual economic impact of $339.2 million, according to the Union Democrat.
Coburrubia hopes to have more security in Oakdale should the City Council vote to proceed with any of the proposals.
“I hope to give the county what they were looking for, something respectable and something that is not going to make the town uncomfortable,” he said.
Prospective business owners have until June 19 to submit proposals.