Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2017
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2017 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Brooke Edwards Staggs


The Inland Empire has its first licensed medical marijuana dispensary,
with Green America now open for business in Perris.

"This is the first time that patients will be able to purchase their
products from a permitted dispensary," said Mark Douglas, chief
executive of the nonprofit that runs Green America. "This is a
historic day not just for Green America Inc., but for the city of
Perris and all of the Inland Empire."

The move comes after more than 77 percent of Perris voters in November
approved Measure K, an initiative put on the ballot by the Perris City
Council to remove the city's ban on marijuana businesses. The measure
permits dispensaries in industrial and commercial zones, with strict
rules on record keeping, buffers from schools and more.

Perris has received eight applications from aspiring dispensary
owners, city spokesman Joseph Vargo said. So far, only Green America's
has been approved.

Green America is serving patients with a doctor's recommendation for
medical marijuana at its shop on Harley Knox Boulevard, along the 215
freeway just south of March Air Reserve Base. The shop had a soft
opening Friday, Aug. 25 and a grand opening is planned in coming weeks.

It took months to go through the approval process and get the shop set
up in compliance with local laws and new state regulations that will
take affect Jan. 1, according to Justin Shively, who also has an
ownership stake in the dispensary. He said he and his partners know
the spotlight is on them as the first shop in the area, but insists
they're up to the challenge.

"It makes us want to set the standard," Shively said, promising a
clean, safe and friendly shop with competitive prices.

That last promise is key if Green America hopes to compete with nearby
unlincensed shops that remain open despite city efforts to shut them
down. The website Weedmaps shows 14 rogue dispensaries in Perris
alone, with many more in surrounding cities such as Moreno Valley and

"Unfortunately, a lot of these places are not paying their proper
taxes and helping our industry," Shively said.

The four-man team behind Green America have experience dealing with
this conflict. They also own New Generation, which is one of 16
licensed medical marijuana dispensaries open in Santa Ana -- the only
Orange County city to permit cannabis stores. And they hope to open
more shops as cities consider regulating marijuana businesses, with
his team looking at expanding their two-store chain in places such as
Long Beach and Los Angeles.

But as an Inland Empire resident, Green America co-owner Travis
Campbell said he's particularly excited to see the local industry grow
and the tax revenue that his shop will bring to Perris.

Perris voters in November also approved Measure J, which allows the
council to tax dispensaries at 10 percent. The city's attorney has
estimated those businesses could add $875,000 to $1.2 million in new
revenue to the city each year.

The city is also getting one-time revenue of $13,008 from every permit
application submitted, Vargas said, plus $300 per owner and employee
for background checks. So far, would-be dispensary owners have paid
more than $100,000 in in application fees.

That's good news for this diverse city of 76,000 people, which
suffered during the past decade's real estate foreclosure crisis and

The city is best known for Lake Perris recreation area and for having
one of the largest skydiving centers in North America. But the median
household income in Perris is $49,325, U.S. Census data shows, and
more than 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The biggest employer in Perris is Ross Dress For Less, city financial
reports state. And state records show the July unemployment rate in
Perris was at 9.1 percent, nearly 3 percent above Riverside County's
rate and nearly double the state and national rates.

Perris has been able to maintain rainy-day reserve funds and revenues
have fully recovered from the recession, according to its most recent
budget report. But city officials note that operational costs are
rising faster than revenues, so they had to dip into reserves to cover
a $2.6 million deficit in the general fund for the 2015-16 fiscal year
and a $2.9 million deficit for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The city is still finalizing the 2017-18 fiscal year budget, Vargas
said. So it's not yet clear whether a deficit is predicted this year
or how revenue from the cannabis industry might impact city finances
going forward.

Tax revenues could grow at an even faster rate if the city decides to
allow Green America and any future dispensaries to sell recreational

Under Proposition 64, a state ballot measure that passed in November,
all adults 21 and over will be allowed to buy cannabis starting Jan.
1. But the law also says cities get to decide whether to allow such
businesses in their boundaries.

Along with legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries, Perris' ballot
measure said the city can choose to let dispensaries sell recreational
cannabis. For now, the new shop is restricted to serving customers
with doctor's recommendations.

Shively said they're proceeding cautiously as the first city in the
Inland Empire to welcome marijuana businesses.

Of course, that distinction does depend on your definition of the
Inland Empire.

Several Coachella Valley cities already allow dispensaries, including
Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Springs. And
the city of Needles, in eastern San Bernardino County near the Arizona
border, also permits dispensaries.

But Perris takes the title of first dispensary-friendly city per the
popular definition of the Inland Empire as being southwestern San
Bernardino County and western Riverside County.

Another I.E. city is very close to following suit.

San Bernardino residents also voted in November to allow dispensaries.
That ballot measure has been caught up in legal battles, but the city
started taking applications from potential shop owners in June and
spokeswoman Monica Lagos said the first permit was handed out on
Thursday, Aug. 24.

With about 4 million people living in or near the Inland Empire,
Shively sees plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to put in
the effort and follow the rules. And once neighboring cities begin to
see revenue from licensed marijuana businesses, he predicts more
Inland Empire cities will roll out the green carpet.
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MAP posted-by: Matt