Stock­ton’s three cannabis busi­nesses are now thriv­ing

Lodi News-Sentinel - - LOCAL - By Roger Phillips

STOCK­TON — The store clerks, ex­perts in the trade, are known as bud­ten­ders.

Depend­ing on the prod­uct, you can smoke, drink or rub on the mer­chan­dise, or ap­ply a med­i­cated trans­der­mal patch, or put a drop in your mouth be­neath your tongue.

Prod­ucts have names like Mo­tor­breath, Sherbac­cio, Dr. Ex­treme and Kosher Dawg, the last of which is not be­lieved to have re­ceived the bless­ing of any known rabbi.

With lit­tle fan­fare, com­mer­cial recre­ational mar­i­juana sales be­came le­gal in Stock­ton late last year and three dis­pen­saries that up un­til then had plied their wares only to the med­i­cal-cannabis trade be­gan selling adult-use prod­ucts in No­vem­ber.

And busi­ness ap­pears to be boom­ing at the three lo­ca­tions: Con­nected Cannabis at 678 N. Wil­son Way; Port City Al­ter­na­tive at 1550 W. Fre­mont St.; and Zen Gar­den Well­ness at 7632 Pa­cific Ave.

“I’ve def­i­nitely seen a dif­fer­ence in sales, the vol­ume of peo­ple we get in here,” Layla Rabah, gen­eral man­ager of Con­nected Cannabis, said of the new­found abil­ity to legally sell recre­ational cannabis in ad­di­tion to the med­i­cal prod­uct. “I have to dou­ble my staff. Be­fore, I could have two bud­ten­ders through­out the day. I need to have four to five now.”

Port City pro­pri­etor Mike Carl­son said of his cus­tomers, “It’s your next-door neigh­bor, se­nior cit­i­zens, peo­ple of all classes.”

It’s been more than two years since Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers ap­proved Propo­si­tion 64. Fifty-seven per­cent of vot­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and 52 per­cent of San Joaquin County vot­ers gave their as­sent.

In 2018, city of Stock­ton staff mem­bers and elected of­fi­cials com­pleted the lengthy task of es­tab­lish­ing a reg­u­la­tory frame­work for the new in­dus­try.

The city has es­ti­mated that le­gal sales of recre­ational cannabis will bring in an ad­di­tional $1 mil­lion a year in tax rev­enue. Two more dis­pen­saries are still go­ing through the ap­pli­ca­tion process in ef­forts to join the three legally op­er­at­ing sites.

San Joaquin County, on the other hand, has yet to es­tab­lish the tax­a­tion and reg­u­la­tory rules that would gov­ern le­gal com­mer­cial sales. A county mea­sure that re­quired two-thirds ap­proval to pass re­ceived only 63.5 per­cent of the vote in No­vem­ber’s elec­tion.

Vis­its to Stock­ton’s trio of dis­pen­saries re­vealed a new busi­ness sec­tor that ap­pears to be thriv­ing.

A steady stream of cus­tomers, old and young, were al­lowed to en­ter af­ter be­ing ad­mit­ted by manda­tory se­cu­rity guards and stop­ping at the front desk to show their IDs to prove they were at least 21 years old. Con­nected Cannabis also re­quired cus­tomers to pass through a me­tal de­tec­tor.

Once in­side, cus­tomers were greeted by uni­ver­sally cheer­ful bud­ten­ders ready to dis­cuss the prod­ucts whose names shone off dig­i­tized elec­tronic menus.

The dis­pen­saries all had on­site ATMs. Buy­ers be­ware: At this point, le­gal recre­ational cannabis in Cal­i­for­nia is strictly a cash busi­ness.

Sev­eral cus­tomers and one em­ployee de­clined in­ter­view re­quests and re­fused to be pho­tographed be­cause of the stigma oth­ers still may at­tach to cannabis, even in its newly le­gal­ized state.

Oth­ers, how­ever, spoke freely.

“I ei­ther need some­thing to calm me down or some­thing to keep me go­ing,” 27-year-old Kiara Parham said af­ter pur­chas­ing Glue #1 cannabis flow­ers.

“I’ve tried the gum­mies, tried the bev­er­ages a cou­ple of times, and the (trans­der­mal) patches,” added Parham, who smokes her pur­chases. “They’re very ex­pen­sive.”

At Port City Al­ter­na­tive, cus­tomer Wil­lard Hall, 33, said, “I love that the world is fi­nally open­ing up to ... mar­i­juana use. It’s not what peo­ple think. I think it sparks cre­ativ­ity. I use it to make my­self bet­ter.”

Not all cus­tomers are mil­len­ni­als. Some, in fact, are nearly cen­ten­ni­als, in­clud­ing a 90-year-old wo­man who re­cently stopped by Con­nected Cannabis to make a pur­chase.

“She said she wanted the best kush we had,” bud­ten­der Car­rie Pow­ell re­called. “I found it, and she was ready to go.”

Added Rabah: “It’s fun to see the va­ri­ety of folks who come in. It’s a lot of smiles.”

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