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Novato Cannabis, BioMarin Expands and Marin IJ Woes

Columnist: Bill Meagher
July, 2019 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

When it comes to cannabis, Marin’s cities are in a quandary, putting those in that sector and those wishing to open a business in a holding pattern.

Almost 69 percent of voters in Marin approved adult-use of cannabis legalization in 2016 via Prop 64. But as of this writing, mid-May, there is exactly one place in Marin to buy cannabis, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the oldest dispensary in the country. That said, the Fairfax outlet is only allowed to sell medical cannabis. Voters there recently said “yes” to allowing drivers from Marin Alliance to deliver recreational cannabis within the town limits.

In March, the City of San Rafael voted to lift a ban on recreational sales and the city has 16 businesses with medical cannabis licenses; a trio of distributors, eight infused-product manufacturers and five delivery services.

The best example of the cautious pace by Marin cities to consider cannabis-based businesses is found in Novato. The Northernmost place in the county does not allow medical or recreational cannabis businesses but in May had its city staff draft tax regulations, should a future city council decide to give a green light to the green herb.

Almost 65 percent of Novato residents voted for Prop 64, but Novato has always moved at a deliberate pace where business is concerned, acquiring the catchy hook “you can’t spell Novato without no.”
In fairness, Novato, and for that matter Marin, are far from the only locales saying “no” to cannabis. Statewide, 80 percent have no licensed cannabis businesses. And some of the licensed businesses are struggling because regulation pushes up overhead while unlicensed cannabis players on the black market undercut product prices.

Cities may have less choice moving forward, according to AB 1356, an assembly bill that would require cities and counties to have one cannabis retail permit for every four liquour licenses in the jurisdiction.
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, would only apply if more than 50 percent of the voters in a city said “yes” to Prop 64. Ting says the bill is designed to ensure there is enough legal cannabis access to meet demand.

BioMarin and housing look good

San Rafael’s planning commission said it would support the proposed expansion of the Bio Marin campus on the old PG&E brownfield site at 999 Third Street. The project calls for construction of a trio of buildings on the three-acre site downtown.

BioMarin wants to build two, four-story buildings that would include both office and lab functions. A third building would be a six story structure and would contain a total of 67 senior housing units as well as activities space for Whistlestop.

BioMarin, the pharmaceutical company focused on developing orphan drug therapies, donated 15,000 square feet of property to Whistlestop, the senior advocate San Rafael-based nonprofit to build housing. Should the project gain a final approval from the city, Whistlestop plans to move its current center from 930 Tamalpais. The nonprofit is working with Eden Properties on the project, which would be made up of one-bedroom and studio units for seniors, all at affordable rates.

Sounds pretty good right? Seniors get badly needed housing and BioMarin adds space and jobs in Marin. But there is a rub. Seems there may not be enough parking between the two uses.

The project is far from a done deal. An environmental impact report still needs to be completed and the design review board still needs to give its blessing before the city council makes a move. 

Your Marin moment

Alden Global Capital aka Digital First Media aka MediaNews Group aka MNG Enterprises, which owns the Marin Independent Journal, lost its bid to win seats on the board of the country’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett—which used to own the Marin IJ.

The New York-based hedge fund has done its level best to take profits and cut costs at local papers like the Marin IJ, while pushing reporters to do more with less. And while the IJ is not the newspaper it once was, it still makes a great effort to cover the communities and businesses it serves despites its owner’s business model of squeezing the life-blood from its assets.

In April, it was revealed the hedge fund was under federal probe for moving $250 million in employee pension savings into investment vehicles controlled by the hedge fund according to U.S. Labor Department documents.

It’s my hope that perhaps Alden Global will spend more time on improving the 50 papers it already owns and spend less time and money chasing other assets as well as manipulating its employee pension accounts.

But I’m an optimist.

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor and an old school member of the North Bay press. He keeps the wolf from the door as a senior editor for The Deal, a NY-based digital financial news outlet. The San Francisco Giants are killing him.



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