On Thursday night, the Porterville City Council hosted a special meeting where they conducted interviews on the retail cannabis dispensary candidates whose Request for Proposal (RFP) scores qualified them for an interview.

During the interview, each candidate was to present their potential business and explain their qualifications, before opening up the interview for a question and answer period with the council. Six candidates were interviewed on Thursday night, but the Council will announce which two candidates will be awarded with licenses to operate a retail cannabis dispensary at an upcoming Council meeting.

Before the interviews began, City Attorney Julia Lew explained the interviews would be conducted randomly, and the candidates were encouraged to participate remotely. Each candidate would receive 15 minutes for an uninterrupted presentation. The city requested the presentation focus on the following elements: introducing the business and ownership structure, describing the primary qualities of their brand, listing which of their representatives and managers (if any) were local and which were not, describe what makes the business unique, listing qualifications of local managers and representatives, provide an estimated three-year plan, describe approach to safety, knowledge of the community benefits and outline what they will give back to the community if awarded a license. 

Each presentation was to be followed by a 10 minute question and answer period, in which the candidates had already received the questions the Council would ask. The questions included how much experience each candidate had in the cannabis industry, how much experience each candidate had with a community benefit plan, and where each candidate saw the business in the next two to five years. Council member Virginia Gurrola did request tan additional question be added, in regards to how each candidate would comply with COVID-19 prevention measures. Three minutes would be allotted for each answer. Each Council member was allowed to score each presentation with up to five points, creating a 25 point total for each presentation. Scores were provided to Lew at the end of the interviews.

First to present to the Council was Haven, followed by Uncle Green Inc., Culture Cannabis Club, Element 7, the Tule River Economic Development Corporation (TREDC), and last to present was Bloom Farms.

Most of the presentations were similar. While Haven, Culture Cannabis Club, and Element 7 were credited with being professional in manner, a vast majority of the presentation and question and answer periods were given by representatives who weren't local.

Haven's and Culture Cannabis Club's addresses are listed as in Irvine while Element 7's address is listed as being in Los Angeles. Uncle Green is from Woodlake and Bloom Farms is from Porterville.

When the Porterville City Council approved the establishment of cannabis dispensaries it did it with the intent the dispensaries would be local.

When it was time for the TREDC to present to the Council, Dennis Ickes, who represented the TREDC, began his presentation with a statement of semi-shock at the lack of local representation.

I don’t think I was expecting so much professionalism,” said Ickes. “I was expecting a lot of locals.”

Ickes continued with his presentation, as normal, but made a revealing statement during his question and answer period. When asked about his and the tribe’s experience in the cannabis industry, Ickes said neither he nor the tribe has much experience in the industry. And when asked about keeping in current compliance and avoiding corruption, Ickes was quite frank.

I am confident that although we do not have experience in the cannabis industry, our vast experience in regulated industries and retail sales will keep us in compliance with state regulations as well as make us a profitable entity,” said Ickes. “I cannot say that I am familiar with corruption issues that have arisen in other jurisdictions because we have not been in the cannabis industry before. I know there are other companies that use local residents as a front in order to get a cannabis dispensary license, and then I have also read up that there has been corruption with the officials that have been put in charge of choosing the dispensary licensing, but besides those two instances I am not familiar with any other form of corruption.”

While the Council didn't make a decision as to who would be awarded a license on Tuesday night, they were required to submit their scores to the City Attorney electronically, no later than 30 minutes after the adjournment of the meeting. The two license recipients will be announced at an upcoming Council meeting.

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