Other Opinions

Law enforcement critical to make legal marijuana market work in Fresno

In this April 20, 2017 photo, customers shop at ShowGrow, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Los Angeles. Fresno is working to open medical marijuana dispensaries.
In this April 20, 2017 photo, customers shop at ShowGrow, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Los Angeles. Fresno is working to open medical marijuana dispensaries. AP file

On Tuesday the Fresno Bee published an opinion piece entitled “Fresno’s elected leaders need to ensure equity in cannabis tax spending,” written by representatives of Oakland-based National People’s Dispensary.

The writers made some very good points, but also completely missed a critically important aspect of the cannabis marketplace.

First, may I say that we couldn’t agree more with their call for community-driven, transparent regulation of the industry in Fresno. Of course the application screening process should be done under the full scrutiny of the public. And yes, the city of Fresno needs to hire a sufficient number of qualified staff members so that the screening process can actually proceed within a reasonable amount of time.

george boyadjian
George Boyadjian Courtesy photo

Hopefully, Fresno will learn from the mistakes made by Los Angeles, which has forced social equity-owned businesses to lease retail properties at two to five times normal commercial rates for over a year while they fumble through their own screening process.

But the writers’ stated, “(our) greatest fear is the (tax) money will be used for law enforcement.” This is where our opinion differs from our out-of-town colleagues.

According to The New York Times, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported in 2018 that the state produced as much as 15.5 million pounds of cannabis, while consuming just 2.5 million pounds. This surplus is shipped to other states but also sold illegally in California in direct competition with licensed, legal dispensaries. This has driven the black market cost of cannabis in California to a new low in 2019.

With high overhead and compliance costs, and as much as 25 percent in state and local taxes added on to legal cannabis, how can any lawful business compete with the black market? How can the government justify forcing us to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to legally operate, only to allow the black market to thrive under our noses? A vibrant, legal cannabis industry cannot and will not grow and prosper until the black market is stamped out.

I was personally affected by the war on drugs, and by cannabis prohibition in Fresno. I operated a medical dispensary here until the city sued to close my shop down in 2009. Instead of joining the black market, I closed my dispensary and waited until regulations and opinions changed. In the meantime, I have been a tireless advocate for cannabis in Fresno, teaching regulations and operations to thousands of budding entrepreneurs through my company, 420 College.

The cannabis industry is changing, as the community’s perception of the product evolves. Some day we hope cannabis will be a widely accepted group of products, sold for adult use in drug stores just like ibuprofen or a 12 pack of beer. But that day will never come until we wipe the illegal element out of our industry. The only way that will ever happen is through enforcement of laws and regulations pertaining to cannabis. We support law enforcement in their fight to stamp out the illegal cannabis market in Fresno.

George Boyadjian is the president of Fresno-based 420 College, and is a local authority on cannabis regulations, permitting and licensing. He plans to be a future operator of cultivation, distribution and retail operations in the Central Valley.