The future is cannabis, and it has finally arrived to Fresno.
By Lisa Talley | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been three years since Prop 64 went into effect, allowing for the sale and taxation of recreational cannabis in the state of California. Since then, the City of Fresno has been carefully outlining its plans to incorporate the emerging industry into its fold. Initially calling for those businesses dealing strictly with cannabis for medicinal purposes only, Fresno eventually opened its arms to commercial, recreational cannabis in its entirety.
In late 2020, retail, microbusiness, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and testing companies were all invited to apply for a chance to claim a spot in Fresno. However, only retail businesses may compete for one of the 14 commercial cannabis business permits available in the various seven districts. All other business types are restricted to West Fresno, along highway 99. The application period has since closed on December 4.
On December 17, the City of Fresno released a summary of applications it received, revealing a total of 95 applicants for the standard application process (36 for social equity permits, 131 applications overall – find more information on the City’s website, Fresno.gov). Of that 95, only 14 will receive a permit, and of those 14, only two retail cannabis businesses will be allowed per district. The City is projected to make its decision by March.
As early as the summer of 2021, the overall landscape in Fresno could look slightly different. But what does that mean, exactly? In what ways could 14 new businesses in a brand-new industry directly impact the surrounding communities?
While it’s difficult to answer either question during these early stages, we can glean some insights by looking at two of the businesses behind some of those applications and explore their plans to engage with the community.
The Artist Tree
The Southern California company aims to reflect the community’s culture by supporting local artists in its retail store. The Artist Tree curates original works by local artists and features them throughout the store, similar to a traditional gallery. However, unlike the gallery, which typically charges a standard 20% fee, The Artist Tree gives 100% of the proceeds from the sale of that artwork back to the artist.
Art is the proclaimed lifeblood and ethos of The Artist Tree brand. It was created as “a way to tie in together the natural synergy between cannabis and the arts … we’re just the canvas for the artists to showcase their work,” says Co-Founder Lauren Fontein.
As illustrated on its website, The Artist Tree explains that cannabis and the arts go hand-in-hand – a natural partnership. Over many decades, artists have found inspiration in cannabis, and likewise, audiences have found cannabis elevates their enjoyment of music, books, paintings, and performances. Enhancing and celebrating the art experience appears to be at the very heart of what drives The Artist Tree forward. And it plans to continue that work in Fresno if awarded one of the few permits to operate here. Fontein stated that their team has already identified and communicated with a few Fresno artists, some of whom have expressed interest in working with the dispensary.
While The Artist Tree will seek to embed itself into the art community by visiting galleries and scouting for local artists to support, artists will also be able to submit their portfolios on The Artist Tree’s website or in person.
“We try to feature up and coming artists, we’re not just looking for someone everyone’s heard of … really, we’re trying to showcase people who might not have had an exhibit or been shown in a gallery, to give them an opportunity to sell their art,” continues Fontein.
The Artist Tree also actively promotes the artists they feature by advocating for them on the store’s social media and educating the staff on the artwork to assist with sales. Furthermore, the dispensary is not limiting itself to the visual arts only but also plans to invite performing artists. Comedians, DJs, and small-scale live music will all be welcome, space permitting.
With the arts coded into the very fiber of its business model, it makes sense that The Artist Tree would have its sights set on the Tower District. The team has also applied in District 2 (the northwest area above Shaw), hoping to increase their chances of calling Fresno their next home. Still, it looks forward to the artistic possibilities of a Tower District location. Specifically, on Van Ness in the old Audie’s Olympic building.
The owners recognize that the building holds a special place in many a Fresnan’s memory and hopes that infusing it with The Artist Tree’s art-centric focus would help maintain and add to the Tower District’s vibrancy. However, if the City of Fresno feels District 2 would be a better fit, The Artist Tree will still bring its artistic flare north of Shaw, in the same manner it planned for District 1.
As many commercial cannabis businesses across the country compete for a slice in the limited spaces emerging in every new market, The Artist Tree says it’s not interested in a global takeover. With retail stores predominantly in Southern California, the company isn’t looking to sprawl out of state or even throughout this one. The Artist Tree is only interested in areas where its stores would make the best fit.
“We’re appreciative of the opportunity to even apply [for a permit]. I think that we could really do a lot of good in Fresno just because it does have a huge art and performing arts culture and community. We would love to a part of that,” shares Fontein.
To learn about The Artist Tree, visit theartisttree.com.
Where art is the center of one company, education is the focus of Haven, also a Southern California based company. There are three levels in its education plan – employee education, customer education, and community education.
Employees can expect a standard new-hire orientation, but additionally, training on industry standards as a whole will be a norm. Brand ambassadors from the products sold in the store will continually educate the staff on product ingredients, ailments it may help alleviate or manage, times of day to consume, etc. Beyond this training, however, is the educational stipend Haven will provide to its staff. If a member of the Haven team wishes to earn certification in cannabis management or further their education in cultivation, Haven will help cover the cost.
Every dispensary typically has budtenders available to assist customers in choosing the product that’s right for them. Equipped with detailed knowledge about every item on the store’s shelves, the budtenders generally answer various questions about strains, concentrates (batter, wax, shatter), the benefits of CBD, CBN, micro-dosing/dosing, or weighing the pros and cons of smoking vs. eating cannabis. However, it could feel overwhelming to a customer walking in for the first time. An excited, knowledgeable budtender happily chattering away about batters doing a wonderful job of maintaining desirable terpenes may be too much information to absorb in the first visit. As part of the customer education plan, Haven established kiosks in its stores to provide that same information but in a way that allows each individual to learn at their unique and preferred pace. Customers will be able to browse products and any accompanying information for as long as they need.
Additionally, later this year, Haven plans to broaden customer education by including tutorial videos on its website. A customer portal will allow patrons to sign in and browse topics ranging from cultivation to compliance, anything that might be helpful to the cannabis consumer.
While the employee and customer education plans naturally centers on the cannabis realm, Haven’s community education prong expands beyond it.
“The community education portion is so special because it’s not just about cannabis. It’s about living as decent human beings … what [we can] do to help each other live as decent human beings,” explains Haven spokesperson, Central Valley native, and San Joaquin College of Law graduate, Courtney Caron.
Every month, Haven will keep to a community calendar that identifies a different local organization it plans to support through a cause (which may or may not relate to cannabis) specific to that organization. Some causes may include those involving veterans and PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and pain management. A lecture series will accompany that cause, along with a giving goal that will go towards supporting one of the organization’s projects and a volunteer goal.
Furthermore, Haven plans to team up with The Artist Tree in providing a comprehensive youth prevention plan. The partnership will allow both companies to pool their funds together, giving them a better opportunity to reach more people across different communities. The two will work together to provide an interactive plan between students, parents, and adults, as well as to partner with organizations working directly with the youth to implement the youth prevention plan.
“Finding people to partner with has been difficult, but Fresno has been really active and interested in [this]. I think this will be the first city, if we get in, where we actually get to do a youth prevention plan and put together something meaningful with community leaders,” shares Caron.
Approved for a permit nearby in Porterville, Haven aims to add another location in Fresno. The company has applied in District 3, 4, and 7, on Olive, Belmont, and a building on east Shaw near highway 41.
To learn more about Haven, visit myhavenstores.com.