Weed delivery services get green light


Two medical marijuana delivery services were granted licenses to operate in unincorporated areas of San Rafael, off Lucas Valley Road and San Pablo Drive, last week.

“We’ve seen clearly that marijuana does treat many different illnesses,” Supervisor Judy Arnold said on Tuesday, when her board voted to approve the licenses. “This is something we can offer in a safe and a private way.”

The two operations are expected to begin deliveries across the county within the next six months. Their operational plans were reviewed by county staff, and the safety of their delivery system was evaluated by an independent security consultant; they will employ security guards, remain locked, and be closed to the public.

“This is really sticking a toe in the water,” Supervisor Damon Connolly remarked.

The road to this point has been long. The county first expressed support for the medical use of marijuana with a 1992 ordinance, four years before the state officially allowed its use. Then, in 2001, Marin began issuing medical marijuana cards. Some towns and cities have allowed medical marijuana storefronts—Marin Alliance in Fairfax was one of the nation's first dispensaries—but the county has not allowed any retailers in unincorporated areas. An effort was made in 2015, when the county passed an ordinance allowing medical dispensaries, but all 10 applicants were denied in 2017 due to objections from residents.

“We really heard loud and clear from the public that, despite the fact Marin County is strongly in favor of the legalization of cannabis, there were concerns about siting these storefronts within areas of neighborhoods,” Mr. Connolly said  at last week’s meeting. “We did go back to the drawing board.”

In 2017, supervisors updated the 2015 ordinance to permit delivery services by changing the language from allowing dispensaries to allowing retailers. 

Fifteen potential operators submitted applications in July 2018; their applications were reviewed by a six-member working group comprised of county staff and a security consultant. The group narrowed the list down to six applicants, and a lottery further narrowed it down to four, the maximum the county allows.

The working group reviewed the applicants’ operating procedures around security, inventory, quality control, delivery and training. “It’s as safe as it can possibly be,” Ms. Arnold said.

One of the new marijuana retailers will operate out of a commercial building at 76 San Pablo Avenue, the other out of an office complex at 7 Mount Lassen Drive. A license was approved for Express2You at the San Pablo Avenue location, which is just east of Highway 101; a lottery won by Buttercup & Spring determined which of three applicants was issued a permit for the Mount Lassen Drive location.

Supervisors had the option of authorizing all three applicants for the Lucas Valley location but decided against it. The lottery losers have six months to identify a new site and reapply.

At last week’s meeting, a few residents of the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association expressed concern about the safety of a cash business  near their homes. With her husband and two children present, Jennifer McConnel recounted a night in 2016 when three armed men broke into their home in Lucas Valley and demanded cash. “They seemed to assume we had a large stash at our house,” she said.

Choking up, she described how the masked men woke her children at gun point and beat her husband with a bat. Although the perpetrators were never caught, she said sheriff’s officers believe her home was targeted due to an article that appeared in the Marin Independent Journal that erroneously listed their address as a potential medical marijuana dispensary.

“It was a terrifying night that still haunts my family today,” she said. Her neighbors also expressed concern about allowing a cash business near their neighborhood.

The new delivery services won’t be keeping a high value of cash on site, however—“Nothing more than what a standard liquor store or gas station would have,” said Inge Lundegaard, the county’s cannabis program manager.

The three finalists for the Lucas Valley site made their case as being safe, experienced and professional operators. Sara Pressler, representing Mohave Distribution, said about 30 banks across the country provide banking for cannabis businesses. “Banking is more and more common in the industry for those who are seasoned and experienced professionals,” she said.

Mike Callahan touted the record of Elite Herbs, which began as a collective in a loft: “Our neighbors have always become friends, and this is in no small way because we’ve always conducted ourselves more like a medicine-delivery company than a traditional cannabis-delivery company.”

Sawa Ibrahim, representing the lottery-winning Buttercup & Spring, said her team prides itself on its experience. She co-founded Blüm, a dispensary in Oakland, in 2012. Collectively, her group has operated over 10 cannabis businesses, including retail, cultivation, manufacturing and distribution facilities. “All of these businesses achieved our goals of 100 percent compliance,” she said.

Buttercup & Spring employed former Oakland police lieutenant Michael Glenn Yoell as a security consultant to help it plan operations on Mount Lassen Drive. “Our deliveries will draw no more attention than a UPS truck or an Amazon delivery,” Ms. Ibrahim said.

The new businesses won’t be without competition: delivery retailers located outside the county can, and do, legally serve Marin for both medical and recreational cannabis. 

Meanwhile, recreational pot shops have been outlawed in unincorporated Marin since California voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016, which gained the support of about 70 percent of county voters.