Nevada County’s first medical cannabis dispensary set to open
August 14, 2018
Nevada County's first medical cannabis dispensary is set to have its soft opening Thursday.
Elevation 2477' received its license to throw open its doors in Nevada City last week, after a lengthy permit and build-out process that began a year ago.
"I'm so honored to be here, to be able to pursue my passion," said co-founder Daniel Batchelor during an impromptu tour of the facility prior to its opening.
The Elevation 2477' space had been a class area for the South Yuba Club and required a complete revamp, not just cosmetically (think sleek treated concrete replacing rubber mats) but also new parking, ventilation and other measures required to comply with the state's stringent cannabis regulations.
"They say, in business construction, that it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think it will," Batchelor said. "It's times three for cannabis construction."
Batchelor was quick to stress that Elevation 2477' will have a "soft open" Thursday, but will not be fully up and running for public sales for a few days.
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"We'll be open for family and friends so we can test out our systems, including patient verification," said spokeswoman Maria Herrera. "We expect to be fully operational beginning next week."
Permit process marked by controversy
Nevada City's permit process for the first dispensary grew contentious because it opted to grant only one license for the first year.
According to the city's current marijuana laws, the city manager is to provide the city council with a report examining the first dispensary's impact on the community after the business has been in operation for one year. If, after hearing the report, city council members determine that "there are no significant consequences of allowing these medical marijuana businesses to operate in the city," they can opt to allow two more dispensaries to open up.
Three applicants — including Growing Community and Nevada County Wellness — were judged in a selection process. Each applicant team was interviewed by a selection committee made up of city staff and council members earlier this month. Based on those interviews, committee members ranked each applicant using a point system. Elevation 2477 ranked highest by the selection committee, followed by Nevada County Wellness and Growing Community.
In November 2017, the city council voted to grant Elevation 2477' the license. But in December, council members Duane Strawser and Reinette Senum pushed to revisit the issue of only allowing one dispensary, expressing disappointment in the majority's choice and the way it was made.
The city council voted to potentially allow three dispensaries — and then reversed that decision in February after push-back from the community.
"It's been a little bit of a rocky road," acknowledged Jonathan Hogander, the chief financial officer for Elevation 2477'.
"There's a lot of pressure, a lot of weight" involved in being the first dispensary permitted to open, Batchelor said.
But the principals of Elevation 2477' are looking ahead, now that the eight-month permitting and build-out process is over — almost. Monday morning, they still were scrambling on some of the finishing touches.
"It feels pretty incredible to be able to do this, just to be at this point," Batchelor said, adding the plan is for the first legally licensed, tested and compliant product to be sold in Nevada County to come from Floracy.
How the dispensary works
Nevada County's first brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensary will only allow customers with doctors' recommendations to purchase products at its store.
Elevation 2477' is backed by Batchelor, a Bear River High School graduate who opened and ran Cloud 9, a dispensary in San Diego County, from 2008 to 2011; Hogander, who is on the board of directors for 10 different dispensary businesses in Oregon; and Christina Rosmarin, who attended Oaksterdam University, the country's first cannabis college.
According to the dispensary's business plan, community benefits are a top priority.
"We understand we're the face of the industry," Batchelor said. "We need to represent what we're trying to do. We want to change the perception of who we are."
The dispensary will provide each of its employees with two paid days of "volunteer time off" per year to volunteer at local organizations. The company plans to provide its team to work for the South Yuba River Citizens League's annual river cleanup, apply to maintain a portion of a trail through the Bear Yuba Land Trust, and donate to Hospitality House, among other efforts.
It's been very important for Elevation 2477' to have all the site work done by local contractors, and even the logos and the website,
"We want the economic benefits to percolate down for everyone," Batchelor said. "It's a way of us to give back."
Herrera said the dispensary was designed for the regulations they knew were coming.
Patients enter the business from the back of the building, where a new parking lot was installed to alleviate neighboring businesses' concerns. Once in the lobby, visitors will be verified to make sure they have a valid medical recommendation and are older than 18 or a caregiver. Once verified, the patient will be buzzed in to the sales floor, a limited-access area with what Batchelor calls a "modern farmhouse" look.
All product will be moved off the floor and into the safe room every night, Batchelor stressed. The security system features 16 cameras outside and 14 inside, with "literally every square inch covered."
There is a secure loading dock in the back with, says Batchelor, a level of security far beyond what any other business requires. The dispensary will have a security guard on hand at all times, for example.
There is also a community room that will never have any product available or accessible, where Elevation 2477' will host educational seminars, support groups, and workshops that will introduce people to experts in the industry.
"Being an educational hub was a big thing for me, to open people's eyes and show them the benefits" of cannabis, Batchelor said, adding, "We want to get them off pharmaceuticals."
Sourcing is a hurdle
Batchelor says by far the biggest hurdle right now is supply.
"Our goal is to be 100 percent locally sourced," he said.
For now, he is having to purchase product from outside Nevada County — but is striving to use companies that, while located out of county, are owned by folks with local ties.
"Right now, we cannot source any local product except from Floracy," Batchelor said. "They're the only one that has been permitted, the only locally licensed manufacturer and distributor in the county."
Before this year, under the collective model, anyone with a recommendation could have sold excess product to recoup costs.
"It was the wild, wild west," Hogander said.
The new regulations are completely revolutionizing the way cannabis is produced and sold, Batchelor noted.
With the July 1 testing regulations rolling out, everyone has to go through the Phase 2 compliance testing, he explained. All products sold through dispensaries must be tested, and California has increased the number of pesticides and solvents for which labs must test. There's a "huge bottleneck" because the testing facilities can't process all the cannabis that needs to be tested. Sourcing quality product with compliant packaging and batch dates has been very difficult.
As one example, Batchelor pointed to the catalog for a major California distributor. On two pages showcasing 15 products, only three were actually currently available.
Sourcing issues aside, regulation has many upsides, he said.
"You know what you're getting," Batchelor said. "It's better for the end user. You get a product you can trust."
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.