Roamie Horn of Fresno, CEO of a medicinal marijuana cultivation business in Northern California, urged members of the Fresno City Council to end its ban on medicinal marijuana businesses in the city. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Roamie Horn didn’t expect things to change a couple of weeks ago when the Fresno City Council again took up the issue of whether to allow cannabis-related businesses in the city.
After all, in the nearly 21 years medical marijuana has been legal in California, the city — along with Fresno County — has staunchly held its ground to not allow it here.
Earlier this year, the council voted to ban dispensaries and other businesses that sell, process or grow marijuana for recreational use in the city, despite such businesses becoming legal in California cities and counties that will allow them in a little over a week.
Still, Horn, a Fresno resident who oversees and licensed marijuana-cultivating business in Yolo and Humboldt counties, came to the final city council meeting for the year to join others who spoke in favor of at least allowing medical marijuana businesses in the city.
After speaking, Horn said he listened to the discussion between the council members and thought for a time that the ordinance amendment wouldn’t pass.
“I lost hope at that point,” Horn said.
But in a move that surprised many at the meeting, the council voted to approve a modified amendment, which authorizes the creation of an ordinance that allows in Fresno dispensaries and other businesses for medical marijuana while keeping the ban of recreational marijuana businesses in place.
“Never did I expect 7-0,” Horn said of the vote to approve the change. “I just didn’t see that coming.”
And that’s why Horn has been busy in recent days, scrambling to find a warehouse or other building in Fresno that he and his partners can convert into an indoor growing site to cultivate marijuana for the new medical cannabis industry.
Not that he’s looking to start up right away. The amendment passed by the council directs county staff to draft an ordinance governing medical marijuana businesses, and co-sponsor Oliver L. Baines said that may not happen until February or March, 2018, after which the council will vote on whether to approve it.
Still, that’s enough for Horn, CEO of Woodland-based GRO CAL FARMS, to go forward with plans to develop another grow site here.
Fresno as pot hub?
A former business consultant, teacher and real estate developer, Horn, who also is a Fresno State alum, said his son invited him three years ago to help run his startup business cultivating cannabis for medicinal dispensaries.
The business had its first harvest this year and has long-term plans to have multiple grow sites across the state to supply medical marijuana dispensaries.
Fresno would be a good spot for cultivating the plants, said Horn, noting that the city would be an “onramp to our medical constituents,” as its central location in California would allow GRO CAL to distribute legal cannabis across the state until it can develop more cultivation sites elsewhere. He said he and his partners also want to open a dispensary here.
But would-be cultivators, manufacturers and sellers of medical marijuana and related products aren’t the only ones seeing the potential the ordinance change could bring to Fresno and the handful of other Valley cities that will allow some marijuana-related businesses once state licenses take effect after the start of the New Year.
Insuring the pot industry
Daniel Garcez, a broker for Humboldt Specialty Insurance, which insures cannabis-related businesses, said his hope is to move from Humboldt County to Fresno to insure the new businesses here.
“We cover every sector,” of the cannabis industry that California is licensing, except outdoor cultivation, due largely to the challenges of protecting those crops from theft, vandalism and damage from nature, he said.
And while insurance for cannabis businesses isn’t something a lot of insurance agencies are offering, the legalization of recreational marijuana is raising interest, said Garcez, noting that he recently met with an insurance broker here specializing in agricultural insurance who is looking to get into insuring cannabis businesses.
In addition to being an insurance broker, Garcez advises entrepreneurs in Humboldt County — where more that 700 requests for recreational cannabis permits are pending — on getting through the permitting process.
He co-owns a cannabis cultivation business and uses the drug to treat his own medical condition.
Once Fresno has a medical cannabis ordinance in place, he said he may try to start up a cultivation business or a dispensary here.
“I have a business proposal ready.”
The biggest effect of the Fresno City Council’s turnabout should be felt among the patients who depend on medicinal marijuana to treat a long list of ailments, noted Leslie Ann Eller, assistant deputy director of the Central Valley Chapter of California NORML, a nonprofit formed in the 1970s to lobby for the legalization of marijuana in the state.
The organization was part of the charge to legalize medical marijuana, which happened when voters passed Prop. 215 in 1996, and then the group championed Prop. 64, which voters passed last year to legalize recreational marijuana use and related businesses.
“It should have been implemented years ago,” she said of Fresno allowing medical marijuana businesses.
“Having safe access to medical marijuana for patients is huge. As its stands, currently Fresno patients have to drive out of the county seeking safe access to medication,” said Eller, adding that the some patients have conditions that prevent them from driving or they don’t have cars, making the long trek to get medication more difficult.
Some have turned to buying marijuana on the streets, which poses its own dangers. Not only can you get arrested or assaulted, but also the street drugs are not tested for pesticides, molds and other harmful additives as they would in a legitimate dispensary, Eller said.
Finding the right strain
In addition, while doctors can recommend that patients use marijuana, generally they can’t say which variety, which is why it’s good that they can go to dispensaries that normally have “tenders” who can make those recommendations, said Dr. Daniel Brubaker, a general practitioners who said he was the first doctor in Fresno to issue medical marijuana recommendations back in 2006.
“I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve seen patients who have asthma who no longer have symptoms. I’ve seen patients in pain go off narcotics,” he said.
Some strains work very well on suppressing seizures or pain, while somebody with sleeping issues may need a different strain that is more calming, the doctor said.
Good tenders know which cannabis strains are best suited to particular ailments, and also know the different methods to use them — smoking, ingesting or using cannabis oils — and can direct patients to what is best for them, Brubaker said.
“Cannabis, you have to experiment with it. It’s not like taking regular medication. You need cannabis pharmacists who know what they’re doing to help my patients.”
As such, Brubaker said he supported the Fresno City Council’s vote, adding, “I’ve been telling my patients to get involved and to tell the city council we need something like this. It has been a fight, but I’m happy that it took place, because it will make a difference for a lot of people.”