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Turlock’s first-ever legal cannabis sale took place on Wednesday as the top-ranked dispensary in the City’s Cannabis Pilot Program opened its doors to the public — a highly-anticipated event well over a year in the making.

After originally prohibiting the sale of cannabis in Turlock, the City Council reversed its ban on marijuana operations in May 2019 when it adopted the Cannabis Pilot Program in a split vote. Since then, the process has gone from receiving over 30 proposals from candidates vying for a spot as one of Turlock’s four dispensaries in the program to seeing the Top 4 candidates ranked and Development Agreements approved.

Of the four selected companies, Firehouse is the only locally-owned dispensary and was ranked No. 1 by the City. Owned by The Premier Group, the cannabis conglomerate operates dispensaries in Ceres, Riverbank, Modesto, Merced, Stockton and now Turlock.

Firehouse was the only dispensary to be appealed by Turlock residents after approval from the Planning Commission. The dispensary had to be approved a second time by the City Council after their location, 1601 W. Main St., attracted concern from community members who believed it was too close to Osborn Immersion Two-Way Academy. Despite the outcry, Firehouse was ultimately permitted to operate on Main Street.

In January, Firehouse owner Devin Stetler said his other five dispensaries are expected to give back $4.1 million in public benefit fees this year, not including projected funds for Turlock. Firehouse will give 5.25 percent of its gross receipts to Turlock each month, with .25 percent going toward drug prevention and youth programs.

“We are always excited to welcome a new business to town. In this case, an entirely new industry opening their doors to a line of customers is very encouraging,” Turlock City Manager Toby Wells said. “We look forward to their success and being a good corporate citizen in our community.”

On Wednesday, Turlock resident Shannon Gunter was the first customer in line for the City’s new cannabis shop. She showed up two hours before Firehouse began letting customers in because “there’s always a line around the building” at dispensary openings — and she was right.

The line snaked around the building as customers eagerly awaited completing their first legal cannabis transaction within city limits. For Gunter, who suffers from lupus, said it’s a relief to finally have a dispensary in town.

“A lot of people here and all over use this as a health benefit. We had to travel to Ceres or Merced before, so for us it makes it a whole lot easier to be able to come right down the road from where we live and it’s bringing more money into Turlock,” she said. “Turlock has always been considered such a small town with a homey feel even though it has grown tremendously over the last 20 years. I agree with the dispensary being in my town, and if you don’t want it around just ignore it.”

In May, Wells said the coronavirus pandemic was not only contributing to the delay in getting the City’s dispensaries open, but also sucking the City dry of funds and making the need for the businesses even greater. The additional revenue from the four dispensaries will help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, he said, and contribute to the already-struggling budget.

At the beginning of the year, the City Council adopted a cannabis spending policy in order to determine how the estimated $2 million in revenue from the dispensaries per year would contribute to Turlock. Rather than simply place funds derived from the cannabis pilot program into the City’s reserves, the Council approved a policy that will see the money collected and placed into a special cannabis reserve account within the General Fund. From there, the money can be spent on: cannabis-related expenses, unfunded liabilities and Capital Expenses for one-time emergency Capital Improvement projects.

Mona Gonzales, who traveled from Merced to purchase cannabis at Firehouse on Wednesday, said she has seen firsthand the positive impact dispensaries have had on her own community. Marijuana helps her deal with pain from bob-on-bone arthritis and a curved spine, she said, and has also provided an additional source of revenue for Merced.

“It helps my pain so I don’t have to constantly take pain pills, and it relaxes me so I sleep better. Oh, and I have fun. It makes me happy,” Gonzales said. “In Merced, it’s helping the city. I don’t see why anyone would be against it because it’s bringing in revenue to the city — and we need it. I think any city would need it.”

Firehouse is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 

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