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City continues battle with illegal dispensary
pot in turlock pic1
This nondescript storefront on S. Walnut Road is home to Dry Lake Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary that has been operating illegally in the City of Turlock since August 2017. - photo by Journal file photo

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control is cracking down on unlicensed cannabis operations, and so is the City of Turlock.

The bureau sent a cease and desist letter in February to Irvine-based ghost Management Group, the owner of popular marijuana dispensary finder, ordering the company to stop advertising unlicensed operators or face unspecified “criminal and administrative penalties.”

The letter accused Weedmaps of breaking California law by continuing to advertise unlicensed businesses offering cannabis and cannabis products for sale. The Weedmaps letter is in addition to more than 1,000 cease and desist letters the Bureau has sent to unlicensed cannabis operations, said bureau spokesman Alex Traverso.

Before any cannabis business can get a state license, they must first show that they have permission from their local government. Dry Lake Wellness is Turlock’s lone cannabis dispensary storefront and has been operating without permission from the state or city since August 2017, and while Traverso said that the bureau has not yet sent the dispensary a letter, one government entity that has contacted them is the City of Turlock.

The Turlock City Council made it clear in January 2017 that there would be no marijuana dispensaries in town when they voted to prohibit all commercial activities related to cannabis, including cultivation and cannabis deliveries within the city. In January 2018, the Council adopted a policy to deny approval to any cannabis-related enterprise within Turlock’s sphere of influence in the county.

That ban didn’t stop Dry Lake Wellness, which is still open today despite being sent a cease and desist letter by the City Attorney’s office on Dec. 20, 2017. The letter was sent after the City’s Building Department and the Turlock Police Department’s narcotics team both told the dispensary owners that operating such a business was illegal within City limits.

Nearly three months after the cease and desist letter was sent, interim City Attorney Jose Sanchez said that getting rid of the illegal business is a priority for the City. The issue was discussed in a recent closed session City Council meeting, where it was decided that the City would take any action needed in order to get Dry Lake Wellness to comply.

“At this point, we’ll be working with the City and the police department to enforce the City’s municipal code,” Sanchez said. “This may include not only administrative remedies, but also potential court action.”

Both Sanchez and Police Chief Nino Amirfar hope to see Dry Lake Wellness comply with the City law before any further action has to be taken.

“We have tried to gain compliance but…the illegal establishment has refused to comply,” Amirfar said. “I do not want to make the owners or employees of this illegal establishment criminals; however, we have given them every opportunity to stop their illegal activity.”


“Of course, we would want to work with them to have them shut down on their own without having to file a court action,” Sanchez said. “But, this all depends on their responsiveness.”

Attorney Mike Warda, who is representing Dry Lake Wellness, declined to comment on any impending litigation with the City, but in December did confirm that the business had received a cease and desist letter. At the time, Dry Lake Wellness owners Jesse Henrich and Ruth McLeod hoped to persuade the City Council to allow the dispensary to operate under a temporary permit.

Should such a plan still be in the works, any type of consideration would require an amendment to the City’s current cannabis ordinance, Sanchez said. As interim City Attorney, stepping in to fill the shoes of they city’s former attorney Phaedra Norton, Sanchez added that the City has placed Dry Lake Wellness’ compliance at the top of his list.

“The ordinance is clear that dispensaries aren’t allowed,” he said. “The City is serious about this…this is one of my top priorities. We will be moving forward and using any available avenue to try and achieve compliance.”