Sonora planning commissioners gave their unanimous support for a second medicinal cannabis dispensary within the city limits.
The planning commission voted 3-0 to endorse a development agreement with cannabis entrepreneur Raphael Calderon, of The Bract House, LLC, which next must be approved by the city council.
“The people who need this product instead of these other pharmaceuticals that doctors are feeding to us everyday, those people are glad this is happening,” said Commissioner Ron Jensen.
All three commissioners also approved a use permit for Calderon to renovate a former foundry building at 10 Calaveras St. for the dispensary.
Commissioner Kevin Anderson was not able to attend the meeting, while Commissioner Gary Anderson recused himself because he’s publicly expressed his opposition to cannabis businesses in general.
The city council approved a three-year pilot program in January 2018 that would allow up to two dispensaries that could sell only to people with a valid doctor’s recommendation.
Proposition 64 legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults 21 and over when it was approved by a majority of California voters in 2016, but cities and counties are allowed to regulate or ban sales.
Hazy Bulldog Farms at 1243 Mono Way was the first dispensary to be approved and opened earlier this year. City officials say it has operated without incident.
Calderon, 37, of Valley Springs, could not attend the meeting on Monday because he was flying back from visiting family in Florida, but he told The Union Democrat on Tuesday his plans and clarified reports on airplane hangars he owned in San Andreas that were raided by the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office.
The raid, which occurred in October 2016, resulted in 37 arrests and uncovered what the Sheriff’s Office alleged to be an illegal cannabis processing plant.
Calderon was never accused of wrongdoing, but the county subsequently denied his application for a permit to grow cannabis on the property. He described the situation as a “favor gone wrong” to a business acquaintance whom he let use the hangars to store equipment.
Ethan Turner, deputy county counsel, further vindicated Calderon in an official letter dated Aug. 29, 2018.
“Mr. Calderon was neither arrested nor found to be culpable of any criminal wrongdoing, nor were any of his employees,” Turner stated. “In fact, Mr. Calderon was cooperative with sheriff’s deputies and detectives, and the senior officer on Calaveras County’s Marijuana Enforcement Team found, in his investigation, that Mr. Calderon was not associated with any criminal activities in the units which he sublet.”
Turner noted in the letter that Calderon has also run a medical cannabis dispensary, Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas, since 2015 without incident and remained compliant with all of the requirements for his permit.
Calderon said he and the county are now on “very good terms” and have a “great working relationship.”
Calderon moved to the area in 2014 from Coral Gables, Florida, to purchase and operate the Blue Mountain Collective dispensary, which was established in 2010.
“It didn’t start out with me thinking this is what I was going to do with my life,” he said.
Calderon’s parents are from Cuba and fled to the United States during the communist revolution led by Fidel Castro in the 1950s.
Calderon graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in management and construction management.
He previously worked in the family business of construction and development before getting into cannabis, which he saw as an opportunity to provide better long-term financial stability for his wife and three daughters ages 6, 3, and 1.
“The only difference between most of us is our 9-to-5, but at the end of the day we all base our decisions on the same thing — our family and people around us who we care about,” he said.
In addition to the San Andreas dispensary, Calderon has a license from the state to operate a microbusiness in Sacramento called Category Five Farms that does cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution.
Calderon said all of the funding for his ventures comes from himself, a cousin and business partner in San Andreas.
“The rest has been slowly vertically growing the business,” he said.
The proposed dispensary in Sonora would operate in 2,500 square feet of building at 10 Calaveras St., which is 4,600 square feet.
Calderon said his development agreement with the city is for retail sales only through the dispensary, but he may later consider the remainder of the building for manufacturing or testing — both of which are types of cannabis businesses allowed under the city’s pilot program.
“As it develops and the industry matures in the city, I think this is a good property for other licensed operations,” he said.
Jeff Muzio, the owner of the only permitted dispensary in the city, attended the meeting on Monday to express his support for the proposed business and said he welcomed the competition.
David Peters, of Tuolumne, has been a frequent opponent of commercial cannabis and spoke out on Monday against the location of the dispensary at one of the busiest gateways to the historic downtown area.
“Sonora has been referred to over the ages as the Queen of the Southern Mines,” he said. “I think Sonora could very well become known as the Queen of the Southern Pot Dispensaries in the Mother Lode.”
Commissioner Chris Garnin said in response that industry in the county is no longer dominated mostly by the extraction of natural resources, which has required new types of businesses to support the local economy.
Matthew Clark, Calderon’s attorney based in Angels Camp, said Calderon would be willing to work with the city on any concerns related to the design of the building, as long as any changes also complied with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s strict regulations on how dispensaries must be laid out.
“Mr. Calderon is incredibly responsive and incredibly cooperative,” Clark said to the commission. “I’m sure he’d be happy to work with you I’m sure on anything you’d like to see.”
Sharon Marovich spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Tuolumne Heritage Committee, which had requested that the design of the renovated building included vertical corrugated metal siding instead of horizontal as proposed.
Marovich also requested that the number of additional windows installed be kept to a minimum because it could impact the historicity of the building.
The building is not itself eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but Marovich said it could be a contributor to a national historic district if the city ever seeks that designation for the downtown area.
According to the city’s historic resources inventory, the building was moved from the township of Tuolumne to its current location in 1900. It operated as a foundry through 1940, but later became used for retail as a consignment shop.
Part of what makes the building historic is its association with the industrial development of the city in the first half of the 1900s.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.