December 9, 2015
What's Up At Sungrow?
There was an item on the 12/8/2015 Planning Commission agenda concerning Sungrow. Apparently at an earlier meeting (I've missed so many!) there was a discussion of code violations or failure to conform with the CUP. Rich Malacoff reported that all of the items discussed previously had been corrected. Mr. Malacoff said there had been an issue with a trailer and an issue with the hours. Both have been resolved. At the point when this item came up in the meeting, no representative for Sungrow had shown up, but the Operation Manager arrived later. Mr. Lee (the younger) showed up just as the meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM. Their "Marketing Director" was nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Malacoff said neither of the dispensaries in town have permanent permits yet. They both have things to accomplish in phase two.
Commissioner Dirk Voss raised the issue of how conformance to CUPs in general are monitored. Mr. Malacoff suggested the city do what some other cities do: they get together staff from the community development department, the Planning Commissioners, and Committee Members from the ALRC; put them all on a bus and drive around town to view some properties.
Commissioner Richard Duffle said he had heard reports that Sungrow has been doing "what is called five dollar wax dabs." Meaning the patient buys a dab of medical marijuana wax, and then consumes the wax on the premises. This not only goes against their CUP, but is outright illegal. When Mr. Duffle asked the city attorney (it was Robert Lee this night) about this, the attorney apologized, saying he was not really up on marijuana law. Yes, he said that. May I suggest that that any attorney sitting in with the Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission should always be well versed in marijuana law. We are, after all, the pioneering city in this area, and the Planning Commission is where the business happens. Would the water district have an attorney who knew nothing about water law?
Mr. Duffle continued, saying that in addition to the dabs, Sungrow is also selling medical marijuana slushies which are made on the premises (a health code violation) and the patients then take them out to their vehicles and drive away, possibly consuming them on the road. The people reporting this to Mr. Duffle said they had gotten their physician's letter of recommendation from the doctor who was operating in a trailer just outside the dispensary.
Mr. Duffle said that if there is trouble with this dispensary it could mean trouble later on for other potential marijuana businesses.
Mr. Malacoff said that if any edibles were being prepared on site, the health department needs to be made aware of that.
Mr. Duffle said he considered Mr. Lee's failure to show up as disrespectful. He said he wanted to follow up personally on this matter with Mr. Malacoff, the City Manager and the Chief of Police. He said we need to get a handle on it immediately, so we don't risk losing any businesses. Mr. Malacoff offered to set up such a meeting.
Mr. Voss warned that if a dispensary were operating illegally, it invited intervention from the state or federal government, and that sort of thing would cast yet another shadow on Desert Hot Springs.
Ian Armstrong came to the podium to comment.
Commission, my name is Ian Armstrong. I'm with the American Cannabis Chamber of Commerce*. All the policies that you're saying you need - we implement this for cities free of charge. Those edibles that are sold at Sungrow, they need to be produced in a commercial kitchen regulated by the State of California. They are not. Their slushies, by the same principle, should be produced in a commercial kitchen. They don't have a commercial kitchen.
Cannabis flowers, typically, in the State of California, have between 23% to 25% THC content. Three hits off of a typical bong or other smoking device is capable of getting an individual stoned. This impairs their judgement. Wax, by contrast, is 74% to 78% THC content. This facility is actively having a dabs bar and a wax bar on its premises, allowing its medical cannabis users to ingest this onsite. This is worse than driving drunk. Colorado has severe penalties in regard to this, as do Oregon and Washington. You're now aware this is occurring onsite. If you go to Weedmaps.com for Sungrow's listing you'll see multiple reviews, some as early as twelve days ago [see below for examples]. A case in point that I'll point is CamOne09 "Awesome Place. Went there Monday and it was fast and easy for first time patients. The bud is a lot better then the other place I went to. The Goji Og is awesome. I like the dab station they have there too. I got a free cheap grinder, lighter, and mini pipe and a free 180mg cheese cake."
Smoking dabs onsite is against every single type of law you can possibly imagine. Federal, state, county and it should be against city. It's basic common sense. The fact that this city is operating right now, I would yank its conditional use permit on the spot. As the head of the National Chamber of Commerce [there is a National Cannabis Chamber of Commerce in Florida that appears to be bigger than Mr. Armstrong's American Cannabis C of C] I work with policy in Vermont, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon. I set up Hawaii's medical cannabis program. The fact that they're doing this here is appalling. I've never advocated for the closure of a dispensary before, but this one I suggest you shut its doors immediately. There's no excuse for this [scattered applause]. None whatsoever. And every single day that you let this continue is a liability for this city. It's atrocious!
As the city attorney, you can tell us that if you let someone walk off those premises stoned or impaired after smoking THC in that context, that's a massive liability. And the city issued this conditional use permit to that liability. So, this facility needs to be closed down immediately. If not closed down, I suggest you suspend their permit. There's, what, eleven other dispensaries in line for permits for your city? And one operating already. There's no argument that can be said that there's not another facility in operation, so Desert Hot Springs' population is taken care of in that respect. You've got other dispensaries scheduled to open within the next two to three months which means there's no competition issue being raised from that. There's no reason to allow this to continue to go on. None whatsoever. And we are slightly horrified as the chamber of commerce about this, and this is something that you guys need to fix immediately.
* American Cannabis Chamber Of Commerce may be fairly new and small. Their website lists only one member. The chamber's contact information gives its address as 1766 E. Camino Parocela #10; Palm Springs, CA 92264, which is in a residential area at Ramon and Sunrise. Here is their Facebook page which seems to go back as far as April 2015. There is some indication that Dean Gray does not like Ian Armstrong. I think you know how to consider that information. The chamber's email address has armstronginternational.org for its domain. http://www.armstronginternational.org/ returns only an error page, but the Whois data for Cannabispolicy.org shows it was registered by Ian Armstrong, giving a mailing address of 1643 Clovis Avenue; second floor; San Jose, California 95124, which is a residential address that doesn't appear to have a second floor. Armstronginternational.org was also registered by Ian Armstrong using the Clovis Avenue address. He also registered 5StarFlowers.org using that address. 5StarFlowers is a dispensary in Palm Springs.
In response to a question from Chair Steve Sobotta, Mr. Armstrong repeated that consumption on premises is not allowed by any law in any jurisdiction in this country. "Furthermore," he said, "they also sell alcohol-based tinctures. ATF would have a field day. That's where you take something like Bacardi 151, fill a mason jar with cannabis, fill it with the alcohol, and then shake it around. After 30 days you have a cannabis tincture, which is mostly THC, chlorophyll, and a bunch of alcohol."
Mr. Armstrong said Sungrow is not a medical facility, that the doctor onsite is not using any medical knowledge. Mr. Armstrong said he is making himself available to the city as a resource. He will help the city draft policy. He will assist in checking the dispensaries. He'll help the city maintain compliance on federal and state levels. He said the main goal of his chamber of commerce is public safety. It is not pro-dispensary, it is pro-consumer.
Mr. Duffle asked Attorney Lee what his recommendation would be at this point. Mr. Lee said that first the allegations must be confirmed. If confirmed, he would recommend staff look into suspension or possible revocation.
If the city proceeded as fast as it could possibly go, they couldn't get the suspension hearing on the Planning Commission's agenda until March 2016, IMO. First you've got to investigate, then schedule a public hearing (which requires 45 day notice, IIRC). Consider that it's December. The investigation would be conducted by our short-staffed police or our very short-staffed code enforcement guy, unless we wanted to bring in the Sheriff to help. IOW, the investigation will not go fast.
At this point Susan Miller commented on another topic entirely. There was some confusion if we were still discussing Sungrow, or if we had gone into a final period of public comments.
Bruce Hutchison spoke next. He will be bringing a proposal for another marijuana grow facility to the Planning Commission. He says there will be four buildings on 7 acres. When complete, they will employ 750 to 1,000 employees [which is, I'm fairly sure, more than one Walmart store employs.] He said that another grow facility that has already been approved expects to employ 800 people. He said his own grow facility, once it's operational, will pay the city $1.6 million per year in taxes, plus all the usual expenses one pays for employees. He has moved his family here.
He warned that Sungrow's activities are threatening all of this. The federal government will not tolerating breaking the law, he said. [The official position of some part of the federal government is that they will ignore medical marijuana so long as it's conducted in accordance with local laws. California's new medical marijuana law, effective 1/1/2016, will finally give us a formal law that the feds can accept.]
Mr. Hutchison said he had heard there is a public arts fund and he said he would be willing to put some of his money into that. Mr. Malacoff explained that when he built his grow facility he would, indeed, be putting money into the art in public places fund.
Chair Sobotta called Ian Armstrong back to the podium. Commissioner Duffle said he would like to see this matter dealt with in the next day or two, not next week. Mr. Armstrong suggested suspending the conditional use permit, saying that other dispensaries would pick up the slack. He repeated that Sungrow is a great threat to the future of Desert Hot Springs. He has witnesses who have seen the dab bar at Sungrow. He said he has never suggested shutting down a dispensary prior to this.
Mr. Duffle asked the attorney about suspending the CUP pending an investigation. Mr. Malacoff said a CUP cannot be suspended. It can be revoked, and that requires a public hearing. He suggested a meeting with the City Manager as soon as possible.
The attorney echoed what Mr. Malacoff had said.
Mr. Duffle said he was prepared to be at city hall the next day for a meeting. Mr. Malacoff said he wasn't sure he could get something on the City Manager's schedule for the next day, but would try for Thursday. Chair Sobotta asked Mr. Armstrong if he would be available, and he said he would be. Mr. Malacoff suggested the first meeting should be city staff (and Mr. Duffle) only.
Mr. Duffle pointed out that it appeared the Planning Commission now had a representative of Sungrow in the audience. Commissioner Voss said "Thank you for showing up, even if it was late."
Chair Sobotta said the goal is to get Sungrow to come into compliance, not to shut them down.
Then Ron Gilbert came up to make a comment. My question was why nobody was talking about sending in the police. If a liquor store was allowing people to drink inside the store and then walk out drunk, the first thing the city would do is send some police over there to stop it. They wouldn't schedule a public hearing to pull their CUP two or three months down the road. Send in Chief Mondary, who I'm sure knows how to identify a dab bar - or can educate himself really fast. He goes in, spots the illegal dab bar, tells management to stop it immediately. Comes back the next day to see if they've complied.
Mr. Duffle said he was will to call law enforcement and have them go down there right then. Mr. Malacoff tried to discourage him, saying he had already messaged the City Manager. Mr. Duffle said he was asking the Commission, not staff, and asked if the other Commissioners would like him to contact the police. [There was some applause from the audience.]
Mr. Voss said it was not uncommon for the police department to investigate conditions that were approved in a CUP.
A member of the audience called out that we should hear from the Sungrow representative, if one were in fact present. Everyone waited a few moments, but the alleged Sungrow representative sat there saying and doing nothing. Then Chair Sobotta invited him to the podium, and he came up.
I couldn't understand his name at all, but he said he is the Operation Manager at Sungrow. He is a representative of Sungrow, "but they are on their way." One assumed that "they" meant the owner. He said they would be there in 2 minutes.
In response to a direct question from Mr. Duffle, the Sungrow rep said they do not have a dab bar in their facility. Then Mr. Duffle asked if they were making medical marijuana slushies. The rep said that question should be directed to the owners. Mr. Duffle repeated his question. The rep said they do make marijuana slushies, but they are not for consumption on site. He said they do make the slushies on site.
Mr. Voss said he thought there should be no more discussion on this issue. The conversation had become investigative, he said. Further discussion may jeopardize legal procedures down the road.
Below are some of the patient reviews on Sungrow's Weedmap pages. For a dispensary that allegedly does not have a dab bar, there are a surprising number of patients who say they have enjoyed the dab bar there.
Seven days ago
"Great shop with knowledgeable staff. Its a one stop shop with a dab bar need I say more"
13 days ago
"Went there Monday and it was fast and easy for first time patients. The bud is a lot better then the other place I went to. The Goji Og is awesome. I like the dab station they have there too. I got a free cheap grinder, lighter, and mini pipe and a free 180mg cheese cake."
20 days ago
"Great Staff ! Sungrow is a well run Shop with great bud ! huge variety ! Gotta love the Dab Station & Smoothie machine-"
Oct 12, 2015
"this spot has dank bud, and awesome slushies! pink lemonade is the way to go. and the dab station is fire!! come support one of the best despinsary around!"
S e a l o w s
Sept 3, 2015
"On the Corner of Palm and Dillon in DHS. Upon first arrival, I thought I was going to get my oil changed because of the uniform (black w/ red trim) polo shirts This place is absolutely amazing. Deals are great. Selection and inventory are on point. The staff is very knowledgeable about their strains and qualities. Dab Station is next level. No one here in the valley that I know of is offering dabs on the way out. GENIUS! I am forever a fan of this place. It will be very difficult to get me to go anywhere else now..."
July 25, 2015
"I just love this place I love the people love the DAB Bar it is simply the best this is where every one needs to come!!!!"
July 21, 2015
"While it is a rare quality in today’s business world to find a business that still practices good ole’ fashioned customer service….it’s even rarer when the owner of a business reaches-out to its customers when there is an issue with service and/or product. I recently bought some of Sun Grow’s “Amber Fire” for my vape and I was left a little dissatisfied with the quality of the oil. I called Sun Grow to a few days ago to discuss my concerns about the quality of the oil and was met with a sense of helplessness from the girl that answered the telephone. She basically stated that there was nothing they could do to rectify the situation and I was left feeling almost victimized by the thought that I was stuck with some crummy oil. I was actually blown-away later that day when the owner, Anthony personally contacted me and apologized for the miscommunication between his staff any myself. He invited me in for a free Dab for my inconvenience and immediately exchanged the oil for, what I now must admit, is some of the best bud I have had the pleasure of smoking in quite some time. The bottom line is, Sun Grow didn’t hesitate to fix my complaint and went out of their way to assure that I walked away a happy and satisfied patient. Hat’s off to you Anthony for your understanding and for your commitment to professionalism….and for the DaVinci which moves you guys up to the top of my “go to” list for excellent bud!"
I think it would have been more clear to me if you had said that your reference to Dean Gray had nothing whatsoever to do with the single mention of Dean Gray that I made.
Posted by: Ron's Log at Dec 17, 2015 4:56:20 PM
For me, the article was about Sun Grow, and how they are breaking a lot of rules, laws and regulations. I was just pointing out that they have been doing this from day zero, even to the extent that two planning commissioners were lost because they protested this, and were vilified for it.
Ian Armstrong is just another of those gadflys that try to get in on something after it looks like it is taking off, making it look like he is much more influential than he is. I just ignore him and his posturing...
Posted by: CharlieE at Dec 12, 2015 9:21:24 PM
You're not following this closely enough. Dean Gray dislikes Ian Armstrong. Ian Armstrong is not connected with Sungrow. Everyone knows Gray doesn't like Sungrow so why repeat that irrelevant fact here. I was writing about Ian Armstrong when I referenced Dean Gray. Okay?
Posted by: Ron at Dec 12, 2015 12:00:24 PM
have you even read why he left the Planning Commission? It was because of Sungrow! He had realized that they began work on their premises, sans building permits, long before any approvals had been issued. When he tried to investigate, he was harassed by the owners, and censored by the city attorneys and other commission members. When he realized that the fix was in, he resigned.
Posted by: CharlieE at Dec 12, 2015 5:18:10 AM
I think you may have confused the owners of the dispensary with Ian Armstrong.
Posted by: Ron at Dec 12, 2015 2:05:50 AM
I know that you find Dean personally annoying, but perhaps in this case he was right. These folks started by renovating without permits and assumed that they would get the necessary permits by greasing the right palms. It looks like that attitude of the laws and regulations really don't apply to them is still there front and center!
Posted by: CharlieE at Dec 11, 2015 4:33:46 PM
Mr. Armstrong has a stake in discrediting Sun Grow - if it closes, his business can get its customers. Why would anyone take his word on this matter?
And anonymous reviews and statements on a website are not evidence of anything. People post all kinds of blatantly false things on the internet.
It would be an easy thing for any competitor, like 5StarFlowers to fake these reviews in order to drive Sun Grow out of business.
Posted by: Darr Sandberg at Dec 9, 2015 10:52:03 PM