DRYING TIME Erich Pearson checks on cannabis plants in a drying warehouse at the SPARC cultivation site in Glen Ellen, California. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Seven applicants for Healdsburg’s two allowed cannabis business licenses appeared in private interviews with city staff last Thursday, while an eighth appealed their disqualification in the application process.

Late last month, the city’s cannabis team announced the results of the application process itself, with scores given reflecting the completeness of the applications. Most of the applicants received 100% scores. These were, with the address of their proposed dispensary location: Flora Terra, 498 Moore Lane; Jane, 44D Mill St.; Kure Wellness, 434 Hudson St.; Off the Charts, 129-133 Healdsburg Ave.; and Thi Wellness, 51 Front St.

Two businesses had less-than-perfect scores: Mercy Wellness, of 20 Dry Creek Road, with 95.42%; and Solful, of 465 Healdsburg Ave., with 98.75%. An eighth application was scored “disqualified” by the city process.

SPARC, the applicant that was disqualified from the business license permitting process, won their appeal to City Manager Jeff Kay on Oct. 18, and their application score was updated on the city’s application process and scoring page (they scored 100%). They will have their evaluation meeting city city staff on Oct. 25 and although this means a slight delay in the interview process, the city will hold to their scheduled Special Meeting of the City Council on Nov. 13, 5pm, to allow the Council to make a final determination on which applicants will be awarded a permit.

On Oct. 12, all seven completed applicants were interviewed separately by a city team reviewing their applications. The interviews lasted less than an hour each and were conducted by Community Development Director Scott Duiven, Finance Director Katie Edgar and Police Chief Matt Jenkins. Andrew Sturmfels, the city’s assistant city manager, said he served as “proctor” for the interviews but did not score the applicants.

The eighth applicant, which faced disqualification, was SPARC—a surprise, given that the company has five dispensary locations, two in San Francisco and three in Sonoma County. The first, the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, opened its doors in 2010. Its most recent dispensary opened in the city of Sonoma on April 20, 2022.

Both city officials and representatives of HdL, the consultants hired by Healdsburg to manage the process, were tight-lipped on the reasons for the disqualification. The terms of the application process gave two potential reasons for disqualification: an insufficient or inadequate application form, or applicants “with owners and/or managers who do not meet the criminal history eligibility requirements.”

The Application Procedure Guidelines also state that in the case of the latter, disqualification can be overcome by a “written waiver obtained from the Police Chief.”

Police Chief Jenkins said, “I was involved in the review process for the cannabis licensing backgrounds. No waivers were received by the City from any applicants. The City made the decision based upon the criteria in the Municipal Code and as laid out in the application process.”

Pearson, the founder and CEO of SPARC, was arrested, following a barn fire near Guerneville, for illegal cannabis cultivation in 2011, though he said the charges were later dropped. But it’s unclear if the disqualification stemmed from that arrest or another, or another factor. Pearson would not comment publicly on the possible causes.

The first stage of the appeal for SPARC’s disqualification was heard by City Manager Jeff Kay on Wednesday of this week. “My hope is to make a determination quickly, but I’m hesitant to put a precise estimate on that until the hearing takes place,” Kay said on Tuesday.

If he supports SPARC’s appeal, the same panel that reviewed the other seven applicants will reconvene to interview SPARC fairly quickly.

If Kay supports the disqualification, SPARC can further appeal to the city council, where the appeal will be held in open session. This raises the possibility that the city’s decision on successful applicants for cannabis business licenses may be delayed.

“We’re going to do our best to handle everything [the appeal and remaining evaluations] expeditiously so that the planned schedule does not change, but nothing is set in stone at this point,” Kay said.

“Depending on the timing, that appeal [and its outcome] could both potentially impact the timing of the Council Special Meeting,” Sturmfels said. The council is currently scheduled to meet on Nov. 13 in a public hearing to evaluate the applicants and make a recommendation.

The city of Healdsburg voted last year that two cannabis business licenses could be issued for retail dispensaries, although other business types—such as manufacturing and distribution—could also apply for licenses. To date only the eight applications have been received, all for retail sales.

Up-to-date information on the cannabis process is available on the website at Healdsburg.gov/cannabis.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.



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