Fresno, California Locals Block Cannabis Store from Opening

A proposed Embarc location was far enough away from a school, but locals appealed its permit to open, saying it’s a nuisance because of smell and security.
An existing Embarc location on N. Blackstone Avenue. Photo credit Lisa Vang.

After bending over backwards to meet the criteria for compliance, residents in Pinedale, a neighborhood of Fresno, California, rallied in Fresno City Hall to appeal a permit and demand officials shut down a proposed adult-use retail cannabis location from opening.

Residents appealed Embarc’s Cannabis Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a proposed location at a Fresno Planning Commission meeting on August 16. The stigma surrounding cannabis lingers in many smaller communities throughout California.

Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter led a proposal to open a dispensary at 7363 N. Blackstone Ave., home to about 15 other retailers, and had met requirements to maintain a 1,000-foot distance from Pinedale Elementary School, per local regulations. The store also met necessary security regulations and metro city requirements for parking.

Residents still complained however, saying the smell of pot would fill the nearby shopping center, and that armed guards would be a nuisance. The dispensary’s 1,000-foot distance from the school—meeting local compliance regulations—was still too close to impressionable school children.

Community group Pinedale Matters and Clovis Unified School District wrote letters demanding the proposal be shut down. The effort to appeal the permit worked.

“Embarc was issued every regulation, every ordinance, every code—everything that would be required of this business in order to be in compliance,” Carpenter tells High Times. “Twenty-six regulatory agencies all found us in total compliance. We are required by the issuance of our license to operate in district two, including the location that was vetted by the agencies and county departments.”

“Our business model is predicated on spending weeks, months, and years engaging with community members who are in support, and in opposition to cannabis,” Carpenter continues.

Planning Commission member Monica Diaz told GV Wire that store owners had done everything to meet the criteria set by the city of Fresno to open a dispensary. “She has covered everything, there’s nothing that anybody can come and say that she’s not doing,” Diaz said of Carpenter.

Since two Pinedale residents appealed Embarc’s CUP, representatives were forced to go before the Planning Commission.

“Fear is a far more powerful motivator than fact,” Carpenter says. “I think it was shocking to see a planning commission, by their own admission, [deny a business that was] fully compliant with the process that our city created. Commissioners acknowledge that.” 

Others disagreed and believed regulated dispensaries are safe, however. Five Pinedale residents spoke in favor of Embarc, saying that the store would actually make the neighborhood safer. The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union also spoke in favor of Embarc.

The meeting lasted until 9:55 p.m., with the Planning Commission’s time running out. Planning Commission members unanimously agreed to deny the permit, calling the location a “detriment” to the neighborhood. Planning Commission member Haley Wagner was not present at the meeting.

Fresno and Adult-Use Cannabis

The city has been slow to rollout adult-use cannabis retail locations. In March, Fresno faced a budget shortfall of over $3 million, partly due to the slow pace of cannabis dispensary openings in the city.

Embarc and The Artist Tree opened in the Fresno area on the same day in July 2022. The remaining businesses awarded preliminary licenses have submitted their applications for CUPs which must be approved before building permits are issued and construction or renovations of the site can begin.

Proposition 64 legalized cannabis for adult use in California in 2016. In 2018, Fresno voters approved an ordinance to tax retail sales of recreational cannabis, paving the way for adult-use cannabis dispensaries to open in the city. 

In 2019, the Fresno City Council amended civic ordinances to regulate recreational cannabis, and in 2021 the city began awarding the first of 19 preliminary retail cannabis dispensary licenses issued to date.

Officials in Fresno considered several jurisdictions for possible solutions to the city’s slow rollout of adult-use shops and are considering several options to expedite the opening of additional retailers in the city. 

Pinedale used to be an unincorporated town in Fresno County, but has since become surrounded and annexed by the City of Fresno.

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