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City working to open dispensaries amid pandemic
Evergreen Market is moving forward with plans to open a cannabis dispensary at 1206 N. Golden State Blvd. in the former Meineke Car Care Center location (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

The City of Turlock’s cannabis pilot program that will bring four retail dispensaries into town is moving forward during the coronavirus pandemic, albeit rather slowly.

It was originally anticipated that the four candidates who were selected by the City to operate retail marijuana businesses would open their doors before the end of 2019. When 2020 came along, City Attorney Doug White stated that the dispensaries could become a reality by March. Now that it’s May, Turlockers can expect to be able to buy weed in town presumably before the end of summer.

According to City Manager Toby Wells, the coronavirus pandemic is now contributing slightly to the delay.

“It’s difficult to measure the impact of COVID on the processing on the City side, but it definitely impacts most aspects of our government operations, so it is definitely a contributing factor,” Wells said.

The City Council voted in May 2019 to approve the pilot program, which in addition to the four retail dispensaries will bring commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing and distribution sites to Turlock. Firehouse, Perfect Union, Evergreen Market and MedMen were the original four dispensary candidates chosen to participate in the pilot program, though MedMen ultimately dropped out and was replaced by the City’s fifth-ranked dispensary, Natural Healing Center.

Both Perfect Union and Firehouse have been approved by the Planning Commission and now are in the stages of finalizing their permits with the City — a process Wells expects to move very quickly. Firehouse will operate at 1601 W. Main St. after overcoming some opposition from parents concerned about the location’s proximity to Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy, while Perfect Union was approved to open at 2500 N. Golden State Blvd., just south of the Assyrian American Civic Club. Evergreen Market is moving forward with plans to open at 1206 N. Golden State Blvd. in the former Meineke Car Care Center location.

Since Natural Healing Center began the process later than the other dispensaries, the business is still trying to secure a building. In addition to their upcoming Turlock location, Natural Healing Center operates dispensaries in Grover Beach, San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.

According to Perfect Union chief marketing officer Jim Taschetta, their new Turlock dispensary anticipates opening its doors in August. He doesn’t fault the City at all for the delay and said Turlock has been great to work with.

“When you bring cannabis into a city for the first time, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out,” he said. “We’ve been at this for 10 years so we’re very patient with it.”

Since cannabis dispensaries were deemed essential businesses in California during the state’s stay-at-home orders, the company’s other locations in the Sacramento region have been hitting record numbers when it comes to sales.

“In the last 30 days our business has been up 80 percent. It’s explosive,” Taschetta said. “I think opening new dispensaries is more important now than ever for a couple reasons. It really does help people get through a crisis, and it’s a great way to help cities overcome the economic deficits they’re facing during the pandemic.”

The Perfect Union dispensary in Marysville is expected to bring in over $10 million in sales this year, Taschetta added, and he anticipates the Turlock location to produce similar numbers given its college demographic, population size and neighboring communities. Considering the City’s Development Agreements with the dispensaries require that they pay 5.25 percent of their gross receipts back to Turlock, such numbers would produce $525,000 in revenue.

Wells stated that the City is well aware of the need for additional funding, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to decimate its resources.

“The COVID impacts are very real to our budget. It is well documented the City was struggling with financial challenges prior to the COVID pandemic. An additional revenue source is imperative to help mitigate the impacts that the COVID challenge will have on our budget for the coming year,” he said. “We will be working very hard in the coming weeks to get these businesses open as soon as possible to be able to have a better idea on the revenue that could be anticipated in the coming fiscal year.”

Along with the incoming revenue, all four dispensaries have also committed to giving back to the community through monetary donations and volunteer work, as specified in their Development Agreements. Perfect Union is no stranger to this, Taschetta said, as the business recently installed handwashing stations throughout Sacramento for the homeless population. They plan to continue their philanthropic efforts in Turlock by contributing to causes like hunger, homelessness, education, youth development, the environment and public services.

“We’re really good at going into the smaller environments and having a strong presence in the community, as opposed to big cities,” Taschetta said. “We’re really excited to get into Turlock and I mean that sincerely.”