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City coffers benefit from cannabis
Program update includes community concerns, licensing process issues
Customers lined up as early as 7 a.m. in August 2020 as they eagerly awaited the opening of Turlock’s first dispensary, Firehouse.

More than three years after its inception, the City of Turlock’s Cannabis Business Pilot Program still has a number of kinks that need to be worked out.

Turlock City Attorney George Petrulakis said as much during his nearly 60-minute presentation at Tuesday’s special joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission, a meeting designed to bring the bodies’ new members up to speed on the intricacies of the program.

Later, during the public-comment portion of the meeting, sentiment from the audience ranged from frustration to outright dissatisfaction with a program that has, to date, generated more than $3 million for city coffers.

Perfect Union
Perfect Union opened its Turlock location in September 2020.

Petrulakis started the meeting by pointing out that even the program’s moniker — pilot program — “lends itself to confusion.”

“It’s called a ‘pilot program’ when a better term might be ‘piloted program,’” said Petrulakis, noting that many think the program is a temporary, experimental endeavor, a notion exacerbated to by the use of five-year development agreements. The program’s duration is not intended to last only five years, but rather, the five-year terms of development agreements reached with the four retail licensees, and the non-renewal/non-extension of those DAs.

During Petrulakis’ presentation, financial data was released showing how much revenue the cannabis dispensaries have generated.

During fiscal year 2020-21, the city received $1,181,315.11 in revenue from sales of cannabis. The following year, the city garnered $1,241,144.88. And through about half of the 2022-23 fiscal year, the program has generated $581,241.38, for a total of $3,003,701.37.

More than $2.6 million of those funds have been used to pay for renovations to the city’s lone public pool — Columbia Pool — in west Turlock’s Columbia Park. More than $220,000 has gone to matching federal funds to hire police officers, while $100,000 went to purchase cameras that will read license plates and aid in crime prevention. Another $55,000 was used by the city for a vehicle purchase.

While the city has approved four licenses for cannabis dispensaries, only two — Firehouse Cannabis Dispensary and Perfect Union — are operational. National Healing Center is slated to open “soon,” according to the city’s presentation, and Evergreen Market, based out of Washington, is still lumbering through the application process.

While it’s obvious that the program is a money maker, not all residents are sold on it.

Mary Jackson, a former city council member and current member of the Turlock Unified School District board, took aim at Firehouse Cannabis Dispensary on West Main, located a few hundred yards from Osborn Elementary School — too close to school children, in her opinion.

“All the promises that were made are ridiculous, so let’s start from the very beginning,” said Mary Jackson. “Completely clean it up. Start over. The way this was set up was a joke. If you’re going to do it, hire local people and keep the money in this community and get it in an industrial area where it should be.”

Mike Warda, general counsel for Firehouse, took exception to Jackson’s comments. 

“Firehouse has generated about $2.5 million of the dollars that we’re talking about,” said Warda. “They have followed every rule put in front of them, whether it’s state or local. They have 14,000 customers that live in the city of Turlock, all over 21 years old. So, when you consider what you want to do with this program, you’ve got to consider that there’s 14,000 people you’re affecting, it’s not the three or four people that are complaining about procedures — procedures that can be fixed really easily.”

Ariana Van Alstine spoke on behalf of Evergreen Market, which has been leasing property at 101 E. Glenwood Ave. for more than a year — at $15,000 per month — in anticipation of opening up Turlock’s fourth and final dispensary.

Evergreen Market had a location picked out in 2019 on Glenwood, but when the owner of that property backed out, Evergreen was back to square one. Between having to find a new location, COVID, and the city’s staffing shortages, the process became drawn out.

“The city postposed hearings on the conditional use permit several times to redo the background checks because it had been so long since the initial application, said Van Alstine. “The Conditional Use Permit was finally scheduled to be heard in August and then it was pushed back because the city attorney determined that the development agreement should be heard before the conditional use permit — the process was switched; all of the previous applicants had done the CUP before the DA. Since then, the development agreement was pushed several times and it was finally heard by the planning commission at the beginning of this month. And then it was supposed to be heard and approved by the city council tonight, but was pushed back to have this joint meeting. The CUP was ready to move forward a year ago.

“Evergreen wants to be a good participant of the city, bring jobs to the city, and bring revenue, but we need to be able to get open to do that.”