A Victory, but…
This sidebar once declared in its headline, “Success!”. And it was true at the time. After 4 long years of cajoling and discussion, the city of Sonoma had finally come to permit 2 walk-in retail cannabis dispensaries.
Unfortunately, though the first dispensary has been open for a year now, its owner, Erich Pearson of sparc, along with his Strategic Advisor and part owner of the Sonoma shop, Amy O’Gorman Jenkins, have been lobbying the city to stop the process for a second dispensary.
On September 8, 2021, Pearson told the city council that he had to close 2 shops in San Francisco because he “couldn’t pay the bills”, and he was facing a 1.2 million dollar rebuild. He did not, however, disclose that he was preparing to open a new a new dispensary and consumption lounge on Polk Street in San Francisco. Poor on the one hand, prosperous on the other?
The result was that the city council voted to support what amounts to a city-sponsored monopoly and that for the foreseeable future, Mr.Pearson will not face any competition that would provide medical patients with better prices, more product choices, and additional services.
Ms Jenkins, who runs her own lobbying firm, Precision Advocacy, and is also the Legislative Advocate for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), is a native to Sonoma. Her ties to the local community afford her a unique position to influence local policy. She was a contributor to the campaigns of cannabis-friendly candidates in 2018 and 2021.
Appearances are everything. Contributions can create avenues for corruption, either grand or petty. Cronyism and favors to rig a market are unacceptable.
We thank everyone in this group and on our mailing list for their support, for signing the petition, for writing the letters and contributing to the discussions.
Thanks to Ken Brown and Jewel Mathieson for their years of advocacy for patients’ access to safe, legal medical cannabis. Their goal of local access has finally been realized.
And thanks to our past city council allies Amy Harrington and Logan Harvey for leaning forward on this issue. They helped define Sonoma as a city of progressive values in Sonoma County.
In the meantime, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group will continue to keep you informed on all the latest developments in 2023.
The SVCG Team
Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group
The Voice for Cannabis in Sonoma Valley since 2017
The mission of Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group (SVCG) has been to assist the city of Sonoma form a compassionate cannabis policy that will ensure safe and legal access to medicinal cannabis for the residents of Sonoma and Sonoma Valley.
On January 20, 2021, the city council voted to amend our ordinance to permit an additional walk-in retail dispensary. The newly revised ordinance went into effect on May 19.
A second retail outlet would improve service to the 45,000 people living in the greater Sonoma area. Competition can provide folks here with easy, safe access to more product choice, better services, etc. That’s what the free market is all about, isn’t it? Everybody wins, the city, adult consumers and *especially* medical users.
However, there have been forces within the industry that are working against the second dispensary option and would prefer that the new permit process be slow-walked. You can read about it in this post.
You can also read more details in member Josette Brose-Eichar’s Sonoma Sun commentary, “A brief history of cannabis in Sonoma”.
Sonoma won’t have a second dispensary anytime soon. Why not?
Column by Friend Josette Brose-Eichar in the Sonoma Valley Sun:
Last month the Sonoma City Council addressed the issue of issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a second cannabis dispensary within city limits. The city’s cannabis ordinance was changed two years ago to allow another dispensary, its second. But at its April 19 meeting, the council declined to move forward. There will not be a second dispensary in Sonoma anytime soon.
For the past two years we have heard that dispensaries will be opening soon in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma Valley, so no need to move forward
It turns out some or all of the council met with Eric Pearson, an owner of SPARC, the one permitted dispensary in the city of Sonoma since April of 2022, before the meeting. His perspective is what they listened to.
Mr. Pearson, of SPARC, stated during public comment, “If it’s not plainly obvious at this point, the proponents of a second dispensary here tonight are part of an organization that we competed with and defeated in a highly competitive process. Some of these folks have teamed up with a new out-of-town operator who lives in San Francisco and who is organizing and financing this continued quest for another location. Despite the attempt to make this look like a local grassroots effort of concerned citizens, it is not.”
As a member of the group he was referring to, the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group, I can state that we have not teamed up with any dispensary operator, nor have we accepted any money from anyone. We are in fact a financially broke, grassroots organization that believes a second dispensary would be advantageous to Sonoma and consumers. We are not backing any specific operator for a second dispensary. The council did not question Mr. Pearson’s statement or ask where this information came from.
Employees of SPARC stated, during public comment at the City Council meeting, that they would order any product a customer asked for. Soon after SPARC first opened, I personally asked for a product, and was told that their policy did not allow for ordering this product but, if I wanted it they would order a case of it for me for $540. I declined. As it appeared their policy had changed, I sent an email asking them to order two of the product and let me know when I could come in and pick it up. On April 24, I received a response that they would order for me. Since then I have had emails and phone calls from SPARC management, that no, the policy has not changed. They do “special orders” when customers request a product they do not carry, but “special orders” require buying a case. The council was not given this information.
SPARC offered to give me a case of the product for free, because of all the confusion. However, we agreed that I would pay for and pick up two bottles of my product.
I also do not think Mr. Pearson was promised he would be the only dispensary in Sonoma “for some time” by a previous city council The city ordinance was changed in April, 2021 to allow a second dispensary, with the council at that time acknowledging the city could support and did need a second dispensary.
Mr. Pearson has been successful in assuring that he will not have any competition in the city of Sonoma. To me his influence over this council is a cause for concern.Sonoma Valley Sun, May 7, 2023
Retraction and Apology from sparc CEO Joseph Erich Pearson Necessary
Two responses from our Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group regarding the city council’s mishandling of the 2nd dispensary issue and the accusations made against us by sparc CEO Erich Pearson.
Thanks to Perri Ellis Paniagua for her letter. My rejoinder to Pearson’s false allegations is on that page, as well.
For private responses: SVCG@sonomavalleycannabisgroup.com
Rather fail with Honor than succeed by fraud – Sophocles
Erich Pearson, CEO of sparc, currently operates 5 cannabis dispensaries in Sonoma County and San Francisco. His dispensary in the city of Sonoma has been open for one year and enjoys the enviable position as the one and only cannabis retail shop within a 15 mile radius. It is, at the very least, a one hour round trip drive to any of his competitors.
In order to maintain this retail stronghold, Mr. Pearson has employed numerous questionable tactics, but the charge he lodged against us in public to the Sonoma City Council, strikes a new low.
1. Our Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group is a 200+ member independent, informal advocacy group. SVCG is not, nor has it ever been, affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with any other company, agency or government agency. We view any charge to the contrary as defamation of character, resulting in a negative reflection on our reputation.
2. We assume Mr. Pearson refers to Justice Grown, one of the business entities with which it competed for Sonoma’s first dispensary permit. SVCG has never been a “part of” Justice Grown. To our knowledge, that applicant no longer had an interest in opening a retail store in Sonoma after the Sonoma City Council’s decision to award the sole Conditional Certificate to sparc on August 17, 2020.
3. Furthermore, to our knowledge, no members of SVCG have allied themselves with any out-of-town operator who lives in San Francisco.
4. SVCG has never received any funding from any outside source.
5. Our mission has been to assist the city of Sonoma shape compassionate cannabis policy and to keep our members informed of developments that bear on their needs. SVCG finds Mr. Pearson’s accusation that our group is something more than an unfunded, small town, grass-roots advocacy group to be insulting, deceitful and completely devoid of truth.
Under circumstances such as this, a public retraction and apology would be an appropriate remedy.
Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group
We continue to ask for email support for a second dispensary
Please write the Sonoma City Council in support of a second dispensary: firstname.lastname@example.org