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Turlock cannabis permits taking longer than expected
The Premier Group is hoping to open its fourth Central Valley location, Firehouse, at 1601 W. Main St. in Turlock, after a development agreement with the City was approved by the City Council in August. Firehouse and the other 12 cannabis-related businesses that were granted development agreements in Turlock have yet to go through the Conditional Use Permit Process (Journal file photo).

When the Turlock City Council first approved a cannabis pilot program in May, City Attorney Doug White estimated that marijuana businesses would be fully operational by January. With that goal less than a month away, it’s no longer a reality.

While the months-long process to bring cannabis to Turlock kicked off in the spring, it wasn’t until late July that City staff selected its top four candidates to operate retail dispensaries in town — a competitive contest that saw over 30 applicants vying for a spot. The City also accepted an unlimited number of manufacturing, testing and distribution applications and received eight in total.

In the months that followed, both the Planning Commission and City Council approved Development Agreements for the various businesses. The next stage in the process is for the two governing bodies to approve Conditional Use Permits for each location — a step that has yet to take place, White said, due to background checks conducted by the Turlock Police Department taking longer than anticipated.

Now, White believes Turlock will see its first cannabis operations open by March at the earliest.

“I think the background checks are taking a little longer than we were thinking and hoping they would — not because they’ve found anything bad, but just because it’s a more extensive process than in other communities,” White said.

He added that City staff has also dedicated a lot of time to educating Planning Commission members on how both the Development Agreement and Conditional Use Permit processes work, hosting tours and workshops on numerous occasions. This extended outreach has also set the timetable back.

“One thing I’ve learned about Turlock specifically is that the Planning Commission likes to have workshops and receive as much information as they can before they make decisions on something,” White said.

In January, he believes that three of the four selected dispensaries will see their Conditional Use Permits go before the Planning Commission and City Council for approval. Those three dispensaries are Evergreen Market, Firehouse and Perfect Union. MedMen was formerly on the list, but recently cancelled their plans to open a cannabis retail location in Turlock due to internal issues, according to White.

Due to MedMen dropping out, City staff informed the fifth-ranking dispensary on their list, Natural Healing Center of Grover Beach, that they now had an open spot in Turlock waiting for them.

“Because of that, they’re significantly behind everyone else. But you’ll see pretty much everybody but them processed in January, and then it just depends on how those processes go,” White said. “If they’re good to go, it’s possible you could see something open in February, but more likely in March.”

When Conditional Use Permits come forward for a decision from the Planning Commission and City Council, it will be a definitive vote deciding where the dispensaries and other cannabis businesses will be located. According to their already-approved Development Agreements, Firehouse hopes to operate at 1601 W. Main St., Evergreen Market plans on opening at 693 N. Golden State Blvd. and Perfect Union expects to serve customers at 2500 N. Golden State Blvd.

The delay has affected not only dispensaries hoping to open soon, but the other cannabis businesses as well. Darron Silva of JDI Farms, whose Development Agreement for a cultivation, manufacturing and distribution site was approved in late September, said he understands why there may be some hiccups in the process since this is a new venture for the City. There’s no frustration, Silva added, because it’s nothing out of the ordinary — JDI Farms has also opened cannabis operations in Patterson, Oakdale and Empire.

Once all is said and done, White expects the businesses to help restore the City’s financial health — so time is of the essence.

“From a City standpoint, this would be the only source of significant revenue we’d have between this fiscal year and the November 2020 election,” White said. “When you’re talking about some of the issues facing the City, this is important.”