Ojai officials approved permits for three businesses, including two cooperatives shuttered by law enforcement since last year, to operate and deliver medical marijuana within the city.
Shangri La Care Cooperative, Sespe Creek Collective and AgMD were approved last week for the permits after a seven-month application process, which included interviews and background checks, Ojai city officials said. The businesses received non-retail and delivery permits, which are issued for one year.
The permits come with various restrictions: The businesses/collectives cannot sell recreational marijuana and patients will have to make appointments at least 24 hours in advance; deliveries only can be made within the city limits.
Before Shangri La, Sespe Creek and AgMD can open their doors or make deliveries to patients, Ojai city officials still have to conduct a final inspection. When the first sales will start depend on the inspections.
“We will be closely monitoring each business to ensure they are following the city’s rules and regulations, as this is an emerging industry with many potential unknowns,” Ojai City Manager Steve McClary said in a news release. “At the same time, we know there are patients eager to access medicine without having to leave the city limits.”
The three businesses will be in the Bryant Circle industrial park. Ojai is the first city in Ventura County to provide such permits for non-retail dispensaries and cooperatives, which have been at odds with local law enforcement and prosecutors.
Authorities shuttered Sangri La in April 14, 2016, and Sespe Creek on Nov. 3 and arrested top officials from each collective.
Jeff Kroll, founder of Shangri La, said the city of Ojai’s willingness to work with various cooperatives is a “win for patients who desperately need their medication.”
“This is really a win for the 700 members of Shangri La whose lives improved by having the option of cannabis,” Kroll said. “What this permit really says is the city of Ojai is focused on compassion for its residents. We have to come to grips that the ‘War on Drugs’ has been lost, and we have to change our approach, which should be a message to every city council member in each city … that we need to regulate this market.”
Kroll, president and co-founder of Shangri La, was arrested in April 2016 and was facing multiple felony charges, including one count of conspiracy to sell marijuana, one count of maintaining a place for selling or using marijuana and manufacturing cannabis.
A judge last month dismissed the charges and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has yet to refile the case.
Chelsea Sutula, executive director of Sespe Creek Collective, still faces similar criminal charges and is scheduled to appear in Ventura County Superior Court for an early disposition conference in August. Authorities closed the Oxnard-based collective after a Nov. 3 raid.
Sutula said getting the approval to operate within Ojai is a positive step not only for medical marijuana patients, but also recognizes voters who supported Proposition 64.
Proposition 64, approved by 57 percent of state voters in November, legalized marijuana use for people 21 and older.
The law, however, also included a provision that allows local governments to prohibit retail sales and cultivation of marijuana. Communities across the county and the state have passed temporary moratoriums.
Sutula said collectives have been operating “in a gray area” for some time, and she welcomes an open dialogue with law enforcement officials.
“I am definitely elated because, for the first time, a city has made it clear that they are sanctioning and permitting this activity,” Sutula said. “This is what the voters want. I do have hope … and want to develop an open dialog with the Ojai police chief and his staff so we can work together to keep it as safe and above board as possible.”
Sutula said Sespe Creek Collective averaged about 60 deliveries daily before it was forced to stop operation after the November raid.
While he looks forward to opening Shangri La’s doors and offering deliveries to patients as soon as possible, Kroll said authorities still must address dozens of other services that continue to deliver cannabis without proper permits.
“I totally agree with the (district attorney) and sheriff’s that not regulating drivers — some who don’t have insurance and have lots of pot and money in their cars — need to be regulated,” Kroll said. “They also become targets. As part of (the Ojai permits), we have to make sure we check that our drivers are over 21, have no criminal records and haven’t participated in the black market. There are still those delivering without the consequences, and I do agree that we have to regulate this.”
Other cities are considering similar regulatory rules. Last month, the Thousand Oaks City Council took the first step to possibly allow one medical marijuana dispensary and one marijuana testing facility.
The council directed the city staff to write a proposed amendment to the city’s municipal code chapter on marijuana, which could set the regulatory framework for the dispensary and the testing facility, which would be located in an industrial part of the city.
Fillmore approved a permit process to allow for the personal indoor cultivation of up to six plants, while Port Hueneme also adopted an ordinance regulating medical dispensaries. The city is now taking applications for medical marijuana operations.