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Council to review 5 dispensary ‘finalists’

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The special meeting of the Sonoma City Council to hear presentations and initiate review of top five Commercial Cannabis Businesses begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27.

You are able to view meetings online here:

Live streamed on the City's CivicWeb Portal (sonomacity.civicweb.net)

YouTube Channel (

youtube.com/channel/UChZjUrg2rNLYxTgQHhFy-Tg).

More information about this meeting at

sonomacity.org/special-city-council-meeting-may-27th/

And then there were five.

The competition to grab the brass ring of the Sonoma cannabis dispensary challenge will enter its next phase this week when the five finalists for the coveted Commercial Cannabis Business license go before the Sonoma City Council for approval.

In addition to eventually awarding one license for a storefront dispensary, the city may also award one license for a "non-store front retail commercial cannabis business," as allowed for under the city's cannabis ordinance.

The five applicant finalists will, in alphabetical order, appear before the City Council at its Wednesday, May 27 meeting to present their case.

Their selection as finalists was made from the 10 applicants by the Proposal Review Committee which includes Sonoma Planning Director David Storer, Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez, and Mark Bodenhamer, CEO of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce. The review committee scored each applicant based on a series of criteria city officials are seeking from the licence holder.

Storer said the May 27 meeting would signal the beginning of the next phase – should the City Council confirm the eligible list, the top applicants will be given 45 days to secure an allowable location as part of Phase 2.

Coastal Retail Sonoma finished with 2,453 points of a possible 2,500. Its local tip of the spear is 5-year Sonoma Valley resident Jordan Kivelstadt, who has wine-related businesses in the Valley and recently purchased the former Schellville Grill, now called Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery (yet to be opened due to the shutdown).

His entree to the world of cannabis came through a business partner, Julian Michalowski, who leads Coastal, a Central Coast cannabis retailer that has dispensaries, manufacturing and delivery services in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and San Luis Obispo.

'Our flagship dispensary is in downtown Santa Barbara,' said Coastal's Devon Warlow, 'and we see Sonoma as a very similar community – with an established wine industry that encourages a healthy active lifestyle, and one which has rallied together during natural disasters.' In 2017 — the same year fires devastated Sonoma Valley — wildfires, and then floods, overwhelmed the coastal town of Santa Barbara, especially its Montecito neighborhoods.

'Part of Coastal's ethos is understanding the community,' said Kivelstadt, 'and I'm impressed with the quality of their dispensaries, their team and message.' He would be the local managing partner for Coastal Retail Sonoma, which he said had vowed to put 'a million dollars back into the community in the first five years' of operation.

The Lighthouse Sonoma (2,390) is a Southern California operation seeking a license to open for business in Sonoma. Lighthouse already has a specific location in mind: the Four Corners Service station at Broadway and Napa Road, across from the Broadway Market.

Lighthouse was founded as 'the first dispensary in the lower Coachella Valley' in 2018 by commercial realtor Joseph Rubin, and it has since opened its flagship store in Palm Springs, a prototype for its dispensaries to come.

'We are an open retail cannabis environment,' said operating officer Brad Davis, a former executive at Disney Online. 'It is a true retail experience, not a medical cannabis (store) that was converted to adult use.' He promises a lot of glass, product displays, and a 'consultantive sales technique' that emphasizes education. Orders are input into an iPad station, the product is 'fulfilled in a secure backroom environment,' and customers pick up their order on their way out.

'I reached out to Lighthouse,' said Melanie King, a Lighthouse investor and a Sonoma cannabis community member for over dozen years. 'As event director at CannaCraft, in my tenure I worked with every dispensary in the state, and got to know the operators pretty well. When the application came up, Lighthouse was the only one I reached out to. That's because I live here, I raised my kids here, and if there's going to be a dispensary in Sonoma it's got to meet my muster, which is not easy.'

Matanzas Alliance (2,391) pulls in former Sonoma City Councilmember Ken Brown and his wife, Jewel Mathieson, and would operate its Sonoma dispensary under their business name Justice Grown, It was formed by social-equity attorneys Jon Loevy and Mike Kanovitz of Chicago, and holds cannabis licenses in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Utah, as well as California.

But its local connections are several. As well as Brown and Mathieson, they include co-founders Barry Wood and Robert Jacob of Peace in Medicine, one of the early dispensaries in Santa Rosa; and former Sonoma resident Shivawn Brady. Other members of the Matanzas Alliance are also Sonoma County cannabis advocates who are 'passionate about the therapeutic potential for cannabis,' said Brady.

View Meeting Online

The special meeting of the Sonoma City Council to hear presentations and initiate review of top five Commercial Cannabis Businesses begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27.

You are able to view meetings online here:

Live streamed on the City's CivicWeb Portal (sonomacity.civicweb.net)

YouTube Channel (

youtube.com/channel/UChZjUrg2rNLYxTgQHhFy-Tg).

More information about this meeting at

sonomacity.org/special-city-council-meeting-may-27th/

Brown said Justice Grown reached out to them when their search for a Sonoma location got underway. 'We've been ever-present with the struggle here in Sonoma,' said Brown. 'They recruited us, I'm glad they did.'

Brown added that 'they met our goals for a company we want to work with,' goals which include a strong commitment to social justice: the founders are Loevy & Loevy, a civil rights law firm based in Chicago. 'It's really a righteous group when it comes to cannabis and people's rights,' said Brown.

Mercy Wellness (2,397) is another local cannabis operator that has applied for an application to open a dispensary in Sonoma. The Mercy Wellness dispensary in Cotati opened in January, 2018, as a recreational cannabis dispensary – one of the first in the state to sell cannabis to any adult over 21, with or without a medical recommendation.

Brandon Levine, CEO of Mercy Wellness, recently opened a second dispensary in Santa Rosa, the psychedelically-themed Doobie Nights.

SPARC came in a close second with 2,436 points out of 2,500, but alphabetically they're last – and will be the last to present. The company was founded by Erich Pearson in 1999, as one of the earliest medicinal marijuana dispensaries; there are now three dispensaries in San Francisco and two in Sonoma County, in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, following a merger with Peace in Medicine in 2015.

A native Chicagoan, Pearson came to Sonoma County in 1998 by way of San Francisco and has become increasingly involved in Sonoma cannabis-related politics and business. Under shelter-in-place, he's staying at the SPARC cannabis farm in Glen Ellen – which was largely destroyed by the Nuns Fire in 2017.

Though the bio-dynamic, sustainable cultivation is back, rebuilding the operation is still ongoing. He said he was focused on remodeling the Santa Rosa location and suggested it would probably be similar in Sonoma. 'We have a design aesthetic that has evolved since we opened our flagship store in San Francisco in 2012. It would be that same design team, and look and feel.'

Regarding the application process in Sonoma, Pearson said, 'From my perspective it should be really difficult to come in from outside and open up (a dispensary) when you've got existing businesses and operators and employees,' as does SPARC.

'Local, local, local is always the name of the game,' he said.

The city council meeting will be held virtually on Wednesday, May 27, starting at 6 p.m., and the public is invited via Zoom to view the presentations and the council's evaluation. The council is not obligated to approve all of the five applicants and can disqualify any applicant at any point in the process for any reason.

Email christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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