A Fresno marijuana retailer, seemingly doomed by its proximity to a new school, has found new life at a new location.
Fresno Farms is one of three permit holders in the city granted permission to relocate. The process to apply for relocation changed from when the rules were originally established.
As written in the city code, a change in location or ownership would require a permit holder to essentially start the whole process over again. With a new interpretation from City Hall, just a relocation (or change in ownership) application is needed and the permit remains.
To apply for a relocation change, a business has to already meet certain criteria, such as having city and state cannabis licenses.
Fresno Farms planned to open its location at 3849 E. Ventura Street. But Fresno Unified started constructing the Farber Education Campus across the street. That would be too close for the retailer to operate legally. It found a new location across the street from the Big Fresno Fair.
The city granted 21 permits as allowed by local ordinance, three in each of the seven city council districts. So far, only two have opened. Another 18 received permits, with one permit remaining unassigned.
In the budget approved last month, the city estimates it will generate $5.4 million from cannabis revenue. City Hall missed last year’s projects by a huge margin, bringing in just $1.2 million of the $5 million budgeted.
Two other retailers, Embarc, and Sweet Flower Fresno, also received permission to move.
Move Gives Fresno Farms Fresh Life
Fresno regulations mandate cannabis retailers be at least 800 feet away from schools, daycare centers, and youth centers.
That means if Fresno Farms moved forward with its original location, it could only stay open for a few months.
“We would no longer be allowed to operate once the school is open. So we promptly, of course, sought out a new property that would be better positioned to serve the community,” Fresno Farms compliance director Jessica Reuven said.
Reuven hopes to open the new location at 4555 E. Kings Canyon Road — formerly home to Las Islitas Mexican restaurant — by next year.
“It’s taking us a lot longer than we’d like to open our doors,” Reuven said.
Reuven would not comment on what will happen to the lease on the Ventura Street location but did say her company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to open.
There is enough demand in Fresno to make it worthwhile, she said.
“There’s absolutely money to be made,” Reuven said. “The area surrounding Fresno is an absolute legal cannabis desert.”
No Problems With Location Near Fair
The new proposed Fresno Farms location is within 800 feet of the area where the fair’s carnival/midway is located. Thousands of children enjoy the roller coasters, arcades, and other fun for two weeks every year in October.
Could that proximity run afoul of the city ordinance?
The city’s cannabis ordinance defines a youth center as:
“Any public or private facility that is primarily used to host recreation or social activities for minors … video arcades where 10 or more video games or game machines or devices are operated, and where minors are legally permitted to conduct business, or similar amusement park facilities.”
Fresno Farms thinks the ordinance is “black and white” in its favor because youth use of the fairgrounds is not the primary function. It said it has a zoning letter from the city that confirms it is OK.
“According to our city attorney, we have never advised that the fairgrounds is a ‘youth center,” city spokeswoman Sontaya Rose said. “The Fairgrounds would likely not qualify as a ‘youth center’ under this definition.”
Reuven said Fresno Farms is sensitive to keeping youths away.
“With that level of discretion and our very strict practices preventing minors from accessing the store or even learning about our store … it should be kind of a non-issue,” Reuven said.
The fair and the new proposed Fresno Farms location are in Councilmember Luis Chavez’s District 5 in southeast Fresno.
“I’m still receiving comments and input from residents, businesses, schools, fairground folks, and stakeholders in the area,” Chavez said. “I haven’t made up my mind, and would like to hear from families in the neighborhood.”
Chavez said that deciding whether the midway and adjacent race track are youth facilities “needs to be factored into this process.”
Embarc Has New Location Close to Pinedale Elementary
Embarc received permission to move its second proposed location from Shaw and West avenues to 7363 N Blackstone Ave.
The new location is beyond the required 800 feet from Pinedale Elementary, at about 1,000 feet. However, Clovis Unified School District objects to the site.
“The District has worked through the avenues available to us in the City of Fresno’s planning committee process to object to the location of the proposed cannabis dispensary given its proximity to Pinedale Elementary School. We are concerned by the fact that the dispensary is very near to the 800-foot prohibition on such facilities,” district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.
The Fresno City Council rejected another retailer’s location in the area in October 2021. Lemonnade hoped to operate, but was just at the 800-foot mark separation from Pinedale Elementary. The school district objected to that location as well.
The proposed location is two blocks farther away than Lemonnade. Embarc has been reaching out to the community for support.
“We continue to engage directly with supporters and a small number of opponents in the adjacent Pinedale neighborhood. Thus far, we have secured over 1,000 letters of support from Fresno residents. We also look forward to partnering with community leaders to shut down illegal cannabis shops that have plagued neighborhoods throughout Fresno for years,” Embarc Fresno’s Lauren Carpenter told GV Wire.
The councilman for the area, Mike Karbassi, said he could not comment to avoid the appearance of bias on a future vote that may be taken on the location.
Sweet Flower Also Moving
The third retailer granted city permission to move is Sweet Flower.
“We are delighted to be progressing our store opening in Fresno’s District 7 and we look forward to serving our neighborhood, our community, and broader Fresno from this location,” Sweet Flower CEO Tim Dodd said.
Sweet Flower is moving from 3150 E. Olive Avenue to 3119/3123 N. Maroa. Dodd did not provide a reason why he is moving.
He intends to open by the end of the year.