Petaluma chooses first cannabis delivery service from 4 finalists

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When Claire Firestone’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, conventional medications failed to provide much relief. She started researching the benefits of cannabis products and found that it was far more helpful in her mother’s battle, she said.

As a result, Firestone, 29, became a medical cannabis caregiver, and developed an empathetic connection to its power to aid cancer patients.

Last month she and her partner, James Clark, were selected as Petaluma’s first-ever cannabis delivery retailers.

Around the time Firestone was caring for her mom, Clark, 28, had left his job at an elderly care facility in Marin County, and also started seeking out the cannabis industry to identify a career that provided relief to others in pain.

“We were kind of on these two separate paths within the industry and realized that we wanted to build something together that had the vision we both had,” Firestone said.

During her search for products for her mother, Firestone found staff at dispensaries were often ill-equipped to answer specific questions she had, particularly as she comes from a background in biology and chemistry.

Firestone put the onus on herself to research cannabis to her own high standards and that became a defining attribute of their delivery service for Petaluma, Farmhouse Artisan Market or FAM.

“We really plan on being a resource for customers and patients to get the right information because one of the biggest issues is false information running around, and stigmas off of that,” Clark said. “We want to help negate that.”

Clark and Firestone, romantic partners who make their home in Petaluma, said FAM will provide a high-end customer experience that allow patients to interact with staff members online as well as over the phone.

The ownership group is targeting vendors that employ ethical growing techniques that focus on their environmental impact, as well as the patient’s experience with their products. FAM wants to create a line directly to farmers, so customers can see who and where their products are coming from.

“We’re paying attention to the ways that they’re farming,” Firestone said. “We want to make sure we’re working with people who care about the planet as well, and are using ethical practices – not using crazy pesticides, not overusing water, and are really trying to protect the people that are consuming as well as the environment.”

The flower will come from “small farmers” throughout the North Coast, including Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, Clark said.

“We want … people that have been doing it awhile and really have a true connection to the plant,” he said. “We want to support small, artisan growers.”

“We want to make sure we’re working with people who care about the planet as well, and are using ethical practices – not using crazy pesticides, not overusing water, and are really trying to protect the people that are consuming as well as the environment.” (Crissy Pascual / Argus-Courier staff)

FAM also wants to create a bridge to local businesses outside the industry, and provide organic opportunities to sell products beyond cannabis that fit into their culture of seeking a better quality of life.

“We want to make sure cannabis becomes part of a larger conversation around shopping local and knowing your farmer and having an active, healthy lifestyle,” Firestone said.

The city submitted a request for cannabis delivery proposals in March and fielded replies from seven companies by the April 3 deadline, according to a staff report from Economic Development Manager Ingrid Alverde. Using a series of specific criteria, including business experience, financial stability and security plans, the city whittled down the competition to four finalists.

The top four, Luma, Rhizome, Rx Family and Petaluma Holistic Group, were offered interviews with a panel that featured Alverde, interim planning manager Jeff Bradley, two local business owners, and San Rafael Economic Development Director Danielle O’Leary, who has extensive experience applying state and local regulations to cannabis businesses.

Clark and Firestone, the principal owners of Rhizome, were the only company out of the final four to pass scrutiny and earn a future permit.

Police Chief Ken Savano disqualified two of the finalists while assisting the panel with background checks. During the consent portion of Monday night’s city council meeting, city manager John Brown said “things came up that the police chief and (city) staff frankly were not comfortable with.”

A representative of the fourth finalist that was turned down spoke at Monday’s council meeting. Michael Taylor, co-owner of Ukiah Valley Holistics expressed dismay at the city’s decision to pass on his proposal because of perceived financial instability.

While responding to councilmember inquiries about Alverde’s report, Brown explained that “there were several areas of concern about that group and how they were going to perform.”

City council spent the better part of 2017 molding its cannabis policies and decided storefront dispensaries would not be permitted, but two delivery services and an unlimited number of edible and topical manufacturers could set up shop in six specific business parks.

Among the other various regulations, each business would have to pay an initial permit fee of $3,500 for the first year and will have to ensure operations adhere to the city’s established standards in order to get renewed. Brown hopes to submit another request for proposals for the final slot “by the end of the calendar year.”

The owners of FAM operated a delivery last year called Pacific Medicinals, which served Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties under medicinal marijuana laws.

But once Proposition 64 was approved by voters in November 2016, allowing adult-use of marijuana, cannabis businesses needed state-issued licenses to continue operating. Pacific Mendicinals opted to start fresh under the new laws and officially shut down Jan. 1.

When Petaluma began shaping its own cannabis policies, Firestone and Clark, two North Bay natives, said they didn’t look anywhere else. The next step for FAM is locating a home for the business. After that, they’re hoping to be fully operational and serving Petaluma this fall as the only cannabis retailer – at least for now.

“We love Petaluma. It’s our home,” Firestone said. “We wanted to make sure that, if cannabis came to Petaluma, it came in a way that it should for Petaluma.”