The race to open the first cannabis nursery in Half Moon Bay is off to a slow start as investors have yet to materialize and costs for getting started rise into the millions of dollars.
After two controversial cannabis ordinances passed in November, some feared a proliferation of pot dispensaries or U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids because the drug is still considered illegal by the federal government. However, passage of Measure GG, which permitted cannabis “starts” in limited areas of Half Moon Bay, hasn’t yet brought any marijuana to Half Moon Bay.
Almost six months since the ordinance passed with 53 percent of the votes, no nurseries are open for business. Half Moon Bay resident Eric Hollister is hopeful he will be the first person to start a nursery, using the greenhouses owned by farmer John Muller.
“I am excited for people to see what it is,” Hollister said. “It is frustrating that we have not gotten farther. “
Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester confirmed Hollister has submitted an application for review, but the plans are “still preliminary and not well developed yet” for opening a nursery using land at Daylight Farms.
Hollister, working with his partner Dustin Cline, estimates the total cost of opening shop will be about $8 million to $10 million. Currently, the pair is looking for an investor or investors.
“Though to start we might begin with building in phases,” said Hollister, who added the plan might start by using 50,000 square feet of the total allowable 65,000 square feet.
Muller said he agreed to set up a lease with Hollister and Cline for his land because he is struggling to pay bills growing pumpkins, herbs and other produce.
“Without a doubt we want to continue to stay in agriculture,” Muller said. “And what we have done in the past is not as successful as in our history, so for us small farmers to continue we need to produce a legal crop that could be profitable.”
In order to effectively grow the cannabis starts, Hollister said the plan is to demolish the current greenhouses and build a new space, large enough to produce about 50,000 cuttings to start and eventually up to 100,000.
The design plans for the greenhouses will go before a Planning Commission hearing before construction starts. To preserve the neighborhood, Hollister said the greenhouses would have automated blackout curtains to limit light from the facility and feature a hedge barrier for an added buffer. Additionally, a “biological resource evaluation” will be prepared due to the proximity the greenhouses will have to Pilarcitos Creek, according to Chidester.
After the preliminary phase is completed, Hollister may choose to submit an application for a cannabis nursery license. And beyond getting a permit with the city, state requirements also must be met.
The city’s rules only allow for immature, non-flowering cannabis plants to be cultivated on certain properties that already have greenhouses located on them. The plants can be about 18 inches high before they are sold or shipped out of the city.
Hollister had originally projected he might be operating by spring of 2020, but he said now the timeline is in flux as he waits for an investor to fund the project.
Muller said he will continue to operate his farm, but the sooner a nursery can open the better off he and his wife will be.
“We would still grow our pumpkins, but it would ease the burden to pay bills,” Muller said.
Hollister is aware of the concerns expressed by people who voted against Measure GG. He said he would like to host a town hall or community forum to address them.
“We want to hear real concerns, not just opinions,” Hollister said.