No cannabis dispensary approved

04/13/2017

After the county spent almost two years creating a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance and assessing applications, the county administrator denied all 10 bids for storefront licenses, including two in West Marin that rankled many residents in the San Geronimo Valley and Marshall.

In an announcement on Monday, Matthew Hymel, the administrator, said he would make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to convert the ordinance to a two-step process that would separately evaluate potential operators and sites. He will also ask the board to consider including delivery-only proposals, given the dismay expressed by many people at the idea of a neighborhood dispensary.

Applicants have until April 24 to appeal Mr. Hymel’s decision to supervisors. If appeals are made, they must be heard in the next three months.

“I think we knew it would be a challenge from the beginning,” Mr. Hymel told the Light. “We hoped to identify a vendor and a site through this process. We don’t think we found that match.”

The ordinance, approved after multiple public hearings in December 2015, marked an effort by supervisors to provide a way for people with a doctor’s recommendation to visit a storefront to make their purchases, as every dispensary in the county’s incorporated towns had shut down. (Currently, recreational dispensaries in Marin are prohibited.)

The rules required storefront applicants to secure a signed commitment from a landlord to rent a space—which had to be at least 800 feet from youth facilities—were they to nab a license. Last summer, the county evaluated 10 applications, and in January and February the Community Development Agency organized three community meetings to give applicants a chance to present their proposed businesses to both community members and an advisory committee. 

The meeting in the valley drew hundreds of people, the vast majority opposed to the applications for West Marin. 

On Monday, the agency also released a 16-page report that summarized the process, community comments and the strengths and weaknesses of each application. Two entities applied for licenses in West Marin: Forest Knolls Wellness hoped to operate at 6700 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and Craftcanna Health Center proposed to install a mobile dispensary near the Marshall Tavern while it raised the money to rehabilitate the bayside building.

The county’s report said that Forest Knolls Wellness “had the largest community opposition response” of all the applications it received. Of 1,280 responses—submitted through snail mail, email and in petitions—87 percent were opposed. The county removed responses from people who did not live in Marin, “given the focus of the County’s medical cannabis program to expand access to medical cannabis for residents of Marin County.”

The outcry over the Forest Knolls application stemmed from a number of concerns, including its potential to draw crime; its proximity to residences, including a mobile home court; and the potential that a reality television star named Matthew Shotwell would purchase the building. A number of groups wrote letters of opposition, including the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, the San Geronimo Community Center, the Marin County Office of Education, the Lagunitas School District and the West Marin Coalition For Healthy Kids.

In their comments, the county’s advisory committee said the application had a couple of bright spots. One of the applicants, Kip Baldwin, lived in Marin, and the dispensary would have a community relations manager and collaborate with local groups. 

But concerns about Forest Knolls Wellness outweighed the application’s strengths. The report said the applicant had no experience running a dispensary; the operating plan had a number of holes, such as with staff training and patient controls; and the proposal did not meet parking standards and even proposed parking spaces in a Caltrans right-of-way. 

The advisory committee also pointed out that the application evinced an interest in selling recreational marijuana were the state to legalize it. (Proposition 64 was passed in November, after the applications were submitted.)

Asked whether the group would appeal, Natalia Thurston, a lawyer for the applicants, wrote in an email that Marin voted in favor of Prop. 64 and that the ordinance should be updated “to align with the recent changes to state law so that some of the benefits of these changes at a state level will flow to its residents who overwhelmingly voted to approve recreational sales and use of cannabis in Marin County.” 

“If no medical permits are issued for dispensaries,” Ms. Thurston wrote, “Marin residents involved in the medical cannabis industry will continue to remain in the black market as unregulated businesses—and no forward progress toward the sensible goal of reasonable regulation of cannabis sales and use will be met.”

For its part, the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group praised the administrator’s decision. “The County administrator is on target in recommending that the Board of Supervisors revisit this issue,” the group wrote to the Light. “We are particularly interested in exploring the delivery-only by mobile or mail options and will monitor this. But we are also on alert and have some concerns about the impacts and challenges of the use or sale of recreational cannabis in the Valley.”

Craftcanna, on the other hand, faced different criticism. Opposition was much less voluminous from the tiny village of Marshall: the county only received 11 comments, but they were all opposed.

In the report released Monday, the advisory committee noted a number of strengths in the application. Jyoti Sroa, one of the heads of Craftcanna, is a “well-known and respected small business owner/operator” with the family that runs Lotus Indian Restaurant, and another head, Aaron Godbout, has experience in the dispensary industry. They did not plan to become a for-profit business, the plan included provisions for client education and discounts, and the group would renovate a historic site, the advisory committee wrote.

But the plan had a number of problems, too, the report stated. While Craftcanna expected the construction of the mobile facility to take four months, the committee estimated it would actually take two or three years. It also said the dispensary needed more details on patient controls and recordkeeping, and that the parking plan was problematic and encroached on a Caltrans right-of-way.