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Turlock now accepting cannabis applications
The City of Turlock is taking the first steps to licensing cannabis operations in city limits by putting out a Request for Qualifications to potential business owners (Journal file photo).

After reversing the City of Turlock’s ban on marijuana operations through the adoption of a cannabis pilot program last month, the town’s next step was decided upon Tuesday night when the City Council approved the selection process for potential cannabis businesses.

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. In a 4-1 vote during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with Mayor Amy Bublak opposing, a Request for Qualifications was approved, establishing specific criteria and requirements meant to determine the most-qualified cannabis candidates.

“One of the things we’ve found out is really helpful is my office has fielded hundreds of phone calls, but when you actually ask people to put up money and give you a business plan to show that they actually have a viable business, [interest] diminishes in terms of numbers,” said City Attorney Douglas White, who has also worked with other cities to create cannabis programs. “We want to make sure the people that the staff and the City are spending their time with, number one, don’t become a burden on City resources.

“We’ve found that there are lots of people who have great ideas but don’t have the financial backing, and there are people who have financial backing and don’t have a lot of great ideas. So, we want to make sure that we get the cream of the crop and have both.”

The RFQ process will field applications for the different license types that will be available in Turlock, including cannabis retail, distribution, manufacturing, cultivation and cannabis testing facilities. 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.

Based on these applications, City staff will invite chosen candidates for in-person interviews. A joint City Council/Planning Commission meeting to determine where cannabis operations will be allowed within the City is set to be held once all applications are received and the RFQ process will aid in that decision, White explained.

“As we form where businesses are going to be allowed to operate, we want to know the types of businesses interested in coming into the community,” White said.

Since the City has not yet developed a comprehensive zoning scheme, the proposed location of the businesses will be accepted within the application but is not required.  Applicants will also include background information, legal ownership documents, a business plan, preliminary floor plan and a security proposal within their RFQs.

Also included in the RFQ is the candidate’s public financial records, which accounts for one fifth of the RFQ’s total scoring — something that concerned both Councilmember Andrew Nosrati and Turlock resident Jesse Heinrich, who didn’t want to see applicants with less money on hand receive lower scores than those with substantial financial backing.

“Locals who have been directly affected by the local ban, those who are medical-based businesses and minorities should be given more of an opportunity than upcoming monopolies for the future benefit to be truly felt by the community,” said Heinrich, who owned and operated Turlock’s first dispensary, Dry Lake Wellness, illegally during the City’s ban before the Turlock Police Department shut it down in 2018.

Nosrati said that if a business can pay the $5,500 RFQ application fee and prove that they have enough funding to operate a business, that should be enough to be considered.

“One of the things I want to ensure on the economic side is that we’re not somehow giving a high amount of wealth preferential treatment,” Nosrati said. “I think if you have enough money to run the business and the numbers all look good, then that should qualify you from an economic standpoint…and then not make it so that someone who’s backed by a ton of capital behind them is going to be receiving a higher score than someone else, even though they have the money for it.”

White argued that it takes a substantial amount of money to not only operate a cannabis business, but to ensure regulations are being met in terms of attorneys, accountants and security.

“Let’s be very candid. Setting up one of these businesses — aside from the permit process — you’re not talking about $25,000 or $50,000; you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,” White said, though he added that the City’s to-be-determined selection committee can set its own criteria for how they will judge an applicant’s finances.

Following the selection of preferred applicants based on RFQs, development agreements between the City and applicants will be drawn up, with each project going to both the Planning Commission and City Council for consideration and approval. If approved, the applicant must then apply for and obtain a conditional use permit from the State.

White estimated that Turlock would likely see its first cannabis dispensary open between October 2019 and January 2020.

“The goal here is to get the absolute best operators in the right locations,” he said.

Dispensary applicants will have through 3 p.m. July 12 to submit all necessary RFQ paperwork, including their application, to the City Clerk. Qualified candidates who have questions about the application process are invited to attend a pre-submittal conference from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 25 at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway.