Ceres took one step closer Monday to permitting a medical marijuana manufacturing operation without much controversy since products could help alleviate suffering of many suffering with rare disorders and diseases.
The city currently does not allow medicinal pot businesses in any zones in Ceres but is considering changing a zoning ordinance to allow them under a developer agreement.
Medical marijuana has been legalized in California for 20 years but without a permitting process. City Manager Toby Wells said the industry has "lived very quietly in a quasi-permitted state ... which has led to a lot of confusions." A structure was put in place in 2015 by passage of the Medical Cannabis Regulation Safety Act (MCRSA) to allow the state to license such facilities. Regulations are targeted to be in place by Jan. 1. Last month licensing regulations were issued by the state Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation and are out for public comment. Wells said the city needs to be consistent with whatever regulations are adopted and the state will not issue a license for medical marijuana operations unless a city or county has done so first, said Wells.
Wells said Ceres' first medical marijuana operation permit could be issued by the end of the calendar year.
On Monday the council agreed to a fee structure offered by Mike Reynolds, who is proposing Kase Manufacturing at 4111 Brew Master Drive in southwest Ceres. A former Central Valley High coach, Reynolds proposes a highly-regulated indoor facility of 22,000 square feet to grow marijuana and extract oil and other products that would help people like his son, Kase, who suffers from seizures related to chromosome 5q14.3 deletion syndrome, a neurocognitive disorder characterized by epilepsy and intellectual disability. Describing himself as a church-going conservative, Reynolds said he believes cannabis is the only product that has given his son "quality of life." He said Kase went from 1,000 seizures a day to five to 10 because of cannabinoids extracted from marijuana.
Reynolds proposes to pay the city $50,000 per month for the first year of operation, $75,000 per month for the second year and $100,000 per month for the third year. The fee would offset the cost of staff time to regulate the facility. To put his money where his mouth is, Reynolds is putting down a $50,000 deposit with the city to accommodate his business proposal.
"My big thing is I want to make sure kids all over the world can get medicine," said Reynolds after the meeting. "I saw what it's done for my family."
"My goal is to give back. After three years we'll review (the fee) and if it's too much then we'll talk. If it's not enough we'll offer a little bit more."
The facility, if built, would involve planting, growing, harvesting, drying, curing, grading, trimmed, extracting, or manufacturing plants into cannabis products. The development agreement would give the city to tightly regulate the operation and shut it down if out of compliance.
Reynolds said he can buy cannabis but must travel to areas like Oakland, Monterey and Southern California to get it. He said he would rather start a business in Ceres and earlier this year urged the council to "morally and ethically" consider a pilot program where cannabis is grown and distributed to those in medical need. He has proposed starting Kase Manufacturing at 4111 Brew Master Drive.
The council remains opposed to allowing any dispensaries in the city limits for recreational marijuana sales.
In a related but separate discussion, the city is also working on regulations for the permitting process that will allow Ceres residents to grow up to six pot plants indoors as outlined by passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA).
In related discussion, Hiram Cueto of Service Road came before the council on Monday for a second time, urging the city to allow a marijuana testing facility. Cueto, a local chemist, owns an existing environmental testing laboratory. Testing of medicinal marijuana will be mandated by the state through certified labs, he said, and Cueto believes he can complement Reynolds' business.
"I feel the lab plays a key role here and is a neutral party - it doesn't sell, it doesn't grow, it just tells everybody what the product is, if it's good or bad, if it passes or if it fails," said Cueto.
Mark Gray of Modesto, who served as a medical marijuana compliance officer for a Nevada business, praised the council for opening the door.
"It is imperative that you guys at least crack the door open with medical testing of the county's oil ... the closest one is in Oakland," said Gray who said an 11-month battle against cancer and chemotherapy was aided by cannabis. He said it helped with nausea and fight weight loss.
"No matter what we're told, there's power in this product," he said.
He detailed that the regulations of cannabis operations involve having each plant tracked by an identification number. Gray said odor control is achieved through charcoal filters and didn't think Reynolds should have a problem in his industrial zone.
At least Vice Mayor Mike Kline suggested he is open to a testing facility for medicinal marijuana in Ceres.