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Cannabis vendors apply for Turlock licenses in droves
Downtown could see dispensaries

With a university in town and neighboring communities which have no access to commercial cannabis, it was no secret that marijuana dispensary hopefuls would flood into Turlock with proposals for retail locations. This week, the City revealed just how many entrepreneurs are eyeing Turlock as their business’ landing spot and where they could potentially be located.

The interest comes following the recent adoption of the City’s cannabis pilot program, which will allow up to four cannabis dispensaries in Turlock, along with an unlimited number of commercial manufacturing, testing and distribution services. Last month, the City began accepting Request for Qualifications from commercial cannabis stakeholders, establishing specific criteria and requirements meant to determine the most-qualified candidates.

An informational meeting on June 25, led by City Attorney Doug White, saw around 70 interested parties — corporate companies hailing from metropolitan areas like Sacramento and Los Angeles, as well as local cannabis entrepreneurs — gather at City Hall to hear more information on the selection method.

The RFQ process fielded non-official applications for the different license types that will be available in Turlock for different cannabis businesses, and the deadline for candidates to submit a packet to the City was July 12. In a press release sent out this week, the City announced it received a total of 40 responses, 31 of which were for cannabis retail/dispensary locations and one for a retail dispensary with accessory uses.

“The volume of responses will make this an extremely competitive process and the best four proposals for retail/dispensary business operations will be chosen,” the release stated.

The next step is for City staff to review all of the proposals, and then in-person interviews will be conducted with applicants by 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. The same panel will also judge each RFQ anonymously before the interviews, meaning they will not know the name of each candidate when critiquing the documents.

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

While each applicant was asked to include a potential location for their business in the RFQ, no zoning requirements for commercial cannabis locations have been approved yet by the City Council. White presented where City staff is recommending future dispensaries and other cannabis businesses be located to the Planning Commission during a workshop on Thursday.

“Pretty much every department was involved in crafting what will be the staff’s recommendation,” White said, noting that fire and police leadership also weighed in on the decision.

The cannabis pilot program details general location restrictions, which include anywhere within 600 feet of a school, day care or youth facility, and it has also been proposed to include any emergency homeless shelters within these restrictions.

Also included in the restrictions is anywhere within 600 feet of residential parcels, but City staff will recommend during a joint meeting between the Planning Commission and City Council on July 23 that the Council approve removing that setback, allowing for cannabis business owners to secure the support of residents that may neighbor their proposed location.

According to White, it will be recommended to Council on July 23 that cultivation, distribution and manufacturing cannabis businesses be zoned as heavy commercial/light industrial or general industrial, while retail cannabis sales, or dispensaries, be zoned as community commercial or heavy commercial/light industrial. Cannabis testing laboratories are suggested as being zoned commercial office, community commercial or heavy commercial/light industrial.

For businesses zoned as industrial, City staff is suggesting utilization of Turlock’s Regional Industrial Park, but cannabis dispensaries will be prohibited in this area.

“Unlike other communities, staff’s recommendation is not to move commercial transactions, or the retail facing side, into the industrial areas where there’s heavy machinery and it’s not really designed for the heavier traffic and use,” White said.

Instead, downtown Turlock could soon become home to cannabis dispensaries. All cannabis businesses will be prohibited in the downtown core — except for retail sales. City staff is recommending that retail sales of cannabis be permitted in the downtown core, the downtown core transition and in the transitional commercial areas of downtown.

Should a dispensary move in downtown, the owner would be required to control the entire building, White said, in order to keep potential residential renters who could reside above a business from “drilling a hole” into the businesses and robbing it.

Both the City Council and the Planning Commission will vote on the proposed zoning recommendations during a Special City Council Meeting at 4 p.m. July 23, prior to the regularly-scheduled meeting at 6 p.m.