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Turlock welcomes third cannabis retail shop
Taylor Fowler of Merced and Alo Gutierrez of Turlock were among the first customers at the Natural Healing Center Dispensary’s grand opening on Friday morning (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

With a grand-opening ceremony on Friday, Natural Healing Center Dispensary became the third cannabis retailer to officially open its doors in Turlock.

The store, located at 3401 W Monte Vista Ave., opened for business at 10 a.m. and already there was a line that stretched into the 50-slot parking lot.

The City of Turlock, under its cannabis pilot program, made available four retail licenses. NHC joins two other retailers — Firehouse and Perfect Union — already in operation. The fourth, Washington-based Evergreen Market, is in the homestretch and is looking to open at 101 E. Glenwood Ave. in late 2023.

Natural Healing Center Dispensary became the third cannabis retailer to officially open its doors in Turlock on Friday. It is located at 3401 W Monte Vista Ave. (Photo courtesy of NHC).

Southern California-based Glass House Brands, Inc. acquired NHC’s four California stores, including the one in Turlock on April 21. Glass House now owns The Farmacy dispensaries in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Isla Vista and Santa Ana; the Pottery in Los Angeles and NHC stores in Turlock, Grover Beach, Morrow Bay and Lemoore.

“We literally go plant to product,” said Graham Farrar, president and co-founder of Glass House Brands, who previously worked in the tech industry. “If you go into our store in Turlock, you will see Glass House Farms on the shelf and we actually grew that plant. We’re basically Central Coast farmers connected with Central Coast and Central California consumers, all the way from the mother plant to that jar on the shelf … it has our fingerprints on it.”

Farrar pointed out that in California, there exist what are referred to as “weed deserts."

“We don’t have nearly enough retail stores in California,” said Farrar. “If you want a metric, there are 11,000 liquor stores and 77,000 places you can buy a cocktail in California. There are 900 places you can buy a joint. So, we are far from the right number of retail stores. Of those, they’re not evenly distributed. Like, 60 percent of the municipalities in California still have no retail at all. One of the things that we’ve tried to do is look for those areas that are underserved.”

A carnival-like atmosphere enveloped the premises Friday, with various vendors setting up in the parking lot, selling everything from gummies and vape cartridges to cannabis-infused gelato. Inside the store, there were giveaways and a DJ blasting music.

Perhaps the star of the day, save for the products themselves, was Luke Scarmazzo, recently released from federal prison after serving nearly 15 years of a 22-year sentence for selling cannabis illegally.

“It was 14 years, 10 months, 8 days,” said Scarmazzo, 42. “If you want the hours, minutes and seconds, I could probably figure those for you, too.”

The Modesto native owned and operated his hometown’s first medical marijuana dispensary — California Healthcare Collective on McHenry Avenue — with his partner, Ricardo Montes. Though their business was legal under California’s Proposition 215, which legalized cannabis for medical purposes, it remained illegal under federal law.

In 2006, the federal prosecutors accused Scarmazzo of selling cannabis to anybody who wanted it — and not just to those who required it for medicinal purposes.

Scarmazzo denied the allegations and, instead of taking a plea deal, he went to court and was found guilty.

Glass House worked behind the scenes to help secure Scarmazzo’s release. Since becoming a free man on Feb. 3, he’s been hired as a brand ambassador by Glass House.

“Glass House advocated for me while I was still incarcerated,” said Scarmazzo, who was accompanied by fiancé Manndie Tingler. “There were a lot of large companies in this space that had the opportunity to do some advocacy, and didn’t, for whatever reason. But Glass House, being a very large company with the resources to make a significant impact, said my name and talked about me at events. That really touched me. When I got out, I really wanted the opportunity to link up with Glass House because I think Glass House is positioned to make a big impact in this space. … And I think we stand to make the biggest impact in social justice that any company has ever made.”

Scarmazzo maintains that he isn’t bitter about losing 15 years of his freedom. He has no time for anger.

“To me, everything in life has a purpose,” said Scarmazzo. “If me serving that sentence and sacrificing that time with my family can be used for progress and to make sure that no other kids grow up without a father or mother because of a non-violent cannabis offense, then it was all worth it.”