Business · Fresno

Insiders dominate Fresno cannabis license process, including one at center of DA probe

Two days after the Fresno County District Attorney intervened to block a legal settlement between the City of Fresno and Granite Park operator Terance Frazier, citing potential violations of state law, city officials announced that a Frazier-led consortium would move forward to interview for a highly-coveted cannabis dispensary license.

The group, dubbed “Catalyst Downtown Fresno,” is one of 35 standard applicants who are advancing to the third phase of the city’s long, often circuitous, process to obtain a lucrative storefront cannabis license.

The Fresno City Manager’s Office is responsible for determining applicants that will eventually receive licenses, subject to veto by the Fresno City Council.

Frazier, the fiancée of Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, owns 40 percent of the proposed retail marijuana dispensary, which would be the sole downtown Fresno-based dispensary if approved. 

While Frazier and his partners will have further interviews with the City Manager’s Office, his lawsuit against the city – over an audit into his Granite Park operations – is on-going. 

The Fresno City Council postponed a vote on a $4.3 million settlement last Thursday after Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp launched an investigation into allegations of Brown Act violations by a majority of the council. 

Frazier sued the city over an audit that the city conducted into a nonprofit, then led by him and former Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno), contracted to operate Granite Park. He claimed the audit has damaged future business opportunities for him within Fresno.

The audit claimed a lack of internal accounting controls on the part of him and Cox, and highlighted questionable financial transactions by Cox.

Frazier in his suit claimed the city of Fresno — which owns the Granite Park facility — failed to live up to its obligations when he leased the property to operate it as a recreational sports venue.

When he complained and asked for a doubling of a subsidy included in the lease terms, the city retaliated with a damaging audit, the suit alleged.

According to the 65-page complaint, the city’s audit was faulty, as well as “defamatory” and “discriminatory” and should have never been publicly released.

Frazier and other applicants are vying for 21 licenses – three in each council district. 

Another Catalyst-franchised location sits in the council district of Frazier’s fiancée, Soria. Despite overlapping franchisor, Frazier is not an investor in that location.

The City Council increased the total number of licenses from 14 a few weeks ago. 

Out of the 21 licenses granted, the city will award seven to 14 of them to social equity candidates, with the remaining going to standard retail applicants. 

Social equity applicants must meet certain criteria, such as coming from a low-income household and having a past conviction for a cannabis crime, for example. 

In addition to the 35 standard applicants, the city is interviewing 21 social equity applicants. 

Frazier and his partners have applied as a standard applicant. 

Meanwhile, two local influencers – Kacey Auston and Barigye McCoy – shepherded six applications into the next phase of interviews for standard licenses.

Auston holds a majority of shares in three license applicants under the banner of Cookies. The Cookies applications sit in Tower District (located at a former Bank of America branch), south of River Park on Blackstone Ave., and the northeast corner of Shaw and Blackstone avenues.

McCoy, who led the Cannabis Culture Club’s bids as a 49 percent partner, won interviews for locations at the junction of Highway 99 and Herndon Ave., in east Tower District, and in Calwa.

Another standard applicant who has been approved for Phase 3 interviews is former Fresno State Baseball and former Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Garza. 

Garza has applied for two licenses for retail stores located at 4248 W. Ashlan Ave. – just west of Highway 99 – and 4931 N. Blackstone Ave., just south of Shaw Ave. The businesses are named Authentic 559 LLC and Authentic Fresno, respectively. 

Garza owns 51 percent of each business.

Meanwhile, Fresno Economic Development Corporation chief Lee Ann Eager saw one of two applications with her imprimatur advance into interviews.

Eager, a 1-percent shareholder in Element 7 Fresno, an applicant vying for a retail location at Kings Canyon Rd. and Chestnut Ave.

Here’s a full list of cannabis retailers moving onto the next round of consideration

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.