Business · Cannabis · Fresno

Fresno girds up for battle over 5 pot shops under appeal

Following months of applications and interviews away from the prying eyes of the public, the people of Fresno are about to get their first taste of battle over recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Out of the 21 dispensaries that have received approval from the city’s Office of Cannabis Oversight, which is under the purview of City Manager Thomas Esqueda, five of them are up for appeal on Wednesday. 

Here’s a breakdown of the upcoming appeals: 

The Artist Tree

Address: 1426 N. Van Ness Ave. 

Appealing Councilmember: Esmeralda Soria

The Artist Tree will be located on Van Ness Ave. between McKinley and Olive in the Tower District in District 1, and it is one of two – out of three total in the district – being appealed by Soria. 

Soria said she is appealing the permit to allow public participation in the awarding process. 

The city initially awarded a permit to The Artist Tree because the dispensary was the second highest scoring application in District 1. 

Since the appeal was announced, six members of the public sent in comments to the city sharing their concerns about the dispensary. The public comment centered around the fear that the dispensary would increase crime and blight in the area. 

In response, the city said the dispensary has prepared a security plan with armed security guards on sight 24 hours every day. The dispensary will also incorporate an art gallery to feature local artists. 

Cookies Lemonnade Tower District

Address: 1264 N. Wishon Ave.

Appealing Councilmember: Esmeralda Soria

Through the corporate name 1261 Wishon OPCO LLC, the dispensary will operate as Cookies’ Lemonnade brand and is located in the heart of the Tower District in a former Bank of America branch.

This is the other dispensary that Soria is appealing to allow public participation in the awarding process, which was the highest scoring dispensary in the district. 

Similar to the other appealed dispensary in District 1, the public raised concerns about increased crime, which the city addressed, pointing to Lemonnade’s security plan, including a 24-hour security guard. 

Cookies Lemonnade Pinedale

Address: 7315 N. Blackstone Ave.

Appealing Councilmember: Mike Karbassi

Another dispensary operating under Cookies’ Lemonade brand, the city said the District 2 dispensary ranked as the highest in the whole city through the scoring process. 

However, the issue lies with its proximity to Pinedale Elementary School, part of Clovis Unified School District, which has been the subject of intense media scrutiny.

Karbassi is appealing the permit because of how close the dispensary is to the school, which he called “extraordinarily troubling” in his appeal letter. 

Under Fresno law, dispensaries must be at least 800 feet away from all schools, daycares and youth centers, and the city’s cannabis buffer zone map marked this approved dispensary as breaking the buffer zone. 

Clovis Unified Superintendent Eimear O’Brien penned a letter to the city in opposition of the dispensary last month, noting that the Pinedale campus also serves as a transportation hub for the area’s secondary students. 

“The thoughts of our young secondary students having to navigate the distractions and temptations of those frequenting the cannabis retailer on their way home from the transportation site by the school is totally antithetical to all the hard work and investment in transformational education that Clovis Unified has committed to over the past decade…,” O’Brien wrote. 

“With draft imagery of architecture that features vivid, eye-catching colors that are beyond those characteristic of the neighborhood, along with product branding tied to ‘Cookies’ and ‘Lemonnade’ that is more likely to appeal to underage children, the District believes this retail location will be an attractive nuisance to our students resulting in supervision problems for school staff at a time when resources are short and should be directed more intentionally on-site, a potential nuisance for the business, and potential problems related to the health and welfare of students.” 

Applicant Marcus Vik inquired to the city about the zoning restrictions. The city responded saying that while the property is within 800 feet of Pinedale Elementary, the existing retail building on site is not within the buffer zone. 

The existing retail building, a former Toledo’s Mexican Restaurant location, had been demolished prior to the issuance of the letter from the City of Fresno.

Haven

Address: 335 W. Olive Ave.

Appealing Councilmember: Miguel Arias

Haven is set to operate on Olive Ave. on the west side of the Tower District and was the highest scoring out of all District 3 candidates. 

Like Soria, Arias is appealing to gather more public participation in the process. 

Public comment against the dispensary was concerned about the potential increase in crime and drug-use, property value and the worry that families will move out of the area. 

The city’s response pointed to Haven’s security plan, which includes security guards on-site 24 hours a day, as well as the community benefits and investments plan that was submitted by the dispensary to highlight its commitment to the community. 

Public Cannabis

Address: 1220 E. Olive Ave.

Appealing Councilmember: Miguel Arias

Arias is appealing Public Cannabis, which is located east of the Tower District’s main drag and near a residential area, in order to receive more public input. 

Public Cannabis scored as the third-highest District 3 dispensary in the Phase III interview and was selected above a higher-scoring dispensary because that location was too close to another preliminarily-approved socail equity applicant.

The city received the largest amount of public comment for this dispensary out of all the appeals. The public raised concerns regarding safety, the proximity to a nearby school, the placement in a residential neighborhood and increased drug use. 

The city’s response was to highlight Public Cannabis’ security plan and to state that there is no buffer requirement for retail dispensaries and residential zones. 

Earlier this month, Public Cannabis sought to get out ahead of the appeal and hold a community meeting to address any concerns

The community interactions in the meeting were all negative toward the dispensary. 

“This is not what we want in this neighborhood. This brings up security interests. You have a gate and high-tech to protect 1220 Olive, but what about my house? What about my back fence? We already have problems in the Tower District with theft and break-ins and burglaries, etc.,” a community member named Matthew told Public Cannabis.  

“This, by your own admission, is going to bring problems. You wouldn’t be prepared to the level that you are if you weren’t expecting trouble, and it’s going to spill out into the streets. We aren’t really looking forward to this at all.

Photo Composite, courtesy Elsa Olofsson/CBD Oracle

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.