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Cannabis hopefuls eyeing Turlock
Meeting sees overwhelming interest

As the City of Turlock prepares to implement its recently-adopted cannabis pilot program, potential business owners from across the state convened at City Hall on Tuesday to learn how they can put themselves in the running to operate in the sought-after town.

The City’s pilot program, adopted May 14 in a split vote, will allow up to four cannabis dispensaries in the City of Turlock, along with an unspecified number of commercial manufacturing, testing and distribution businesses. On June 11, the Council approved a Request for Qualifications, establishing specific criteria and requirements meant to determine the most-qualified cannabis candidates. Around 70 commercial cannabis hopefuls gathered in the Yosemite Room to hear more information on the City’s selection process, and ask City Attorney Doug White any questions they may have.

“What we’re really trying to figure out is what your plan is, and what you’d like to do in the City of Turlock,” White said. “The goal is to get not who submits their paperwork first, but to get who’s best.”

The RFQ process will field non-official applications for the different license types that will be available in Turlock, including cannabis retail, distribution, manufacturing, cultivation and cannabis testing facilities. At Tuesday’s meeting, in addition to local entrepreneurs, representatives from corporate companies in cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento were in attendance, looking to make their mark in Turlock.

Empire Health & Wellness owner Darren Silva, who operates dispensary locations in Oakdale and Empire and a grow operation in Patterson, said that Turlock’s status as the southern-most and only city to approve commercial cannabis between Modesto and Fresno makes it appealing to those looking to cash in.

“I think given the population of Turlock, with there being four stores, and the other surrounding towns and cities that don’t have a place for safe access, the city will definitely thrive and be comparable to a larger city like Modesto,” Silva said.

Silva, along with EHW general manager Doug Mutoza, were instrumental in Turlock’s reversal of its cannabis ban, allowing the City Council-formed cannabis ad hoc committee to tour their dispensary and grow operation. Vice Mayor Gil Esquer was on that committee, along with then-Councilmember Bill DeHart, and stated when casting his vote in approval of a pilot program that seeing the industry up close helped change his negative perspective.

Had Esquer voted “no” on the program, it would have failed at the dais 3-2.

“They were able to see the legitimacy of the cannabis industry and that it’s not just potheads running the business,” Mutoza said. “There are actual businessmen running it and looking out for the community’s best interest.”

Both Turlock High School graduates, Silva and Mutoza said that the city would have been their first choice when they began their venture three years ago if it hadn’t been for Turlock’s ban on cannabis. Now that the pilot program is underway, they look forward to the opportunity to be considered by the City through the RFQ process.

In their RFQ, applicants must show that they are knowledgeable and experienced in developing successful businesses and include a proposal that not only addresses the potential adverse impacts of commercial cannabis within the City and how they would mitigate those effects, but also an explanation of their business’ own philanthropy and commitment to the City’s economic growth and prosperity.

In his dealings with other jurisdictions like Oakdale and Stanislaus County, Silva said Turlock’s process is very similar. One difference, however, is that RFQs for business in Turlock are capped at 20 pages, whereas Silva and Mutoza have submitted packets of up to 150 pages to other jurisdictions.

“We’ve had some really big ones, so limiting it to 20 pages is not the norm,” Mutoza said. “I actually appreciate that, though, because they’re looking for actual facts about your business and what you’ve done.”

Once the City receives all of the RFQs, to be submitted no later than 3 p.m. July 12, a panel consisting of City Manager Bob Lawton, Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke and Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing Maryn Pitt will interview each business hopeful who submitted a packet. Before the interviews, the panel will judge each RFQ anonymously, meaning they will not know the name of each candidate when critiquing their documents.

Should it come down to a difficult decision, these anonymous scores will be used as a tie breaker to select the four dispensaries.

White said he selected the three City leaders for the panel because they’ll have no impact in future decisions, whether it be placing restrictions on or approval of said businesses.

Interviews will be conducted on July 22 or 24, White added, putting into place a timeline that will see Conditional Use Permits issued by the end of October and Turlock’s first dispensary opening by Jan. 1.

For Silva and Mutoza, it’s been a long time coming.

“Turlock means more to us than anything else. It’s both of our hometown,” Mutoza said. “We have a passion for this town, so we really want to bring back what we love and do it here. We want to bring these tax dollars back to our hometown.”

Silva estimates that a dispensary in Turlock could earn anywhere from $4 to $6 million, given his experience in smaller, less-accessible towns. Development agreements between the City of Turlock and selected dispensaries would see either $25,000 per month from the businesses, or five percent of their gross receipts — whichever is greater.

While RFQs aren’t required to name a location for potential dispensaries, White suggested that if business owners have a spot in mind, they should include it. These possibilities will ultimately help the Planning Commission and City Council decide on a zoning ordinance for the businesses, though City staff is advocating for the use of the Turlock Regional Industrial Park as an area of use.

The zoning recommendation will be presented to the Planning Commission on July 23, and the first reading of the ordinance to the City Council will take place on Aug. 13, if approved.

The four dispensaries selected to operate in Turlock, in addition to the unlimited number of other commercial use applications (who do not require an interview and will automatically move on) will be required to then submit an application to the City for a fee of $25,000.

For business owners like Silva and Mutoza, it’s a small price to pay.

“We had to go to different jurisdictions to do our business, but now that cannabis is in Turlock, we’re putting our best foot forward and we’re going for it,” Silva said.