Calaveras Little Trees

A promotional billboard for Calaveras Little Trees (between Red Apple and Forest Meadows on Highway 4) advertises the dispensary, which now sells recreational cannabis.

No longer will eager cannabis customers without medical cards be turned away from Calaveras County dispensaries.

The three local retailers in the county received the go-ahead to make adult use sales July 24, and business is up.

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors rubber-stamped an update to the retail ordinance to legalize recreational sales June 9, joining several other counties across the state in doing so. It was approved on a 3-2 vote, with District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli and District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills dissenting.

Under the ordinance, sales of adult use and medical cannabis are only permitted in the Professional Office, or CP, Zone upon approval of an administrative use permit.

Locals and out-of-towners poured into Calaveras Little Trees, a dispensary in Arnold, over the weekend following legalization, according to co-owner Jeremy Carlson. It helps that there’s been a larger presence of tourists and second homeowners escaping more densely populated areas amid the COVID-19 crisis, Carlson said.

“We’ve got so many more people in this area,” Carlson said. “A lot of people moved up temporarily, we haven’t seen a downtick in tourism and people are going up camping, so (business has) generally gone up compared to what we did last year in the same time period.”

Calaveras Little Trees doubled its staff weeks in advance of the first recreational sale. That was after COVID-19 had reduced hours and transitioned the business to delivery and take-out only.

“It’s been nice to turn everything back around. We got our old staff back up and running,” Carlson said.

Dispensary employees are required to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, and hand sanitizer stations are accessible for customers, Carlson said. The mask rule applies to customers “if you’re in the room with someone you don’t live with.”

Since state legalization of recreational sales in 2018, business declined for Calaveras Little Trees and other area dispensaries as customers stopped renewing their medical cards.

Former local customers would drive as far as Oakdale in Stanislaus County to buy cannabis, avoiding the average $40 cost and hassle of buying a medical card, he added.

“If we had stayed medical-only, I don’t think the business would’ve survived much longer,” Carlson said. “We pretty much had to do adult use sales for it to continue and grow.”

Conrad Bonet, owner of Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas, said he experienced the same impacts to his business following recreational legalization.

The dispensary was recently permitted for adult use sales as well, and Bonet said he is feeling more optimistic about the potential increase in clientele.

Over the past week, customers Bonet hadn’t seen in years have been coming in, likely because they didn’t want to pay the extra money to get a medical card, he said.

“I’m optimistic. Calaveras is my home, so I’ve got to make it work,” Bonet said. “I do anticipate more traffic from people passing through.”

Recreational sales are also legal in San Joaquin County, but the neighboring counties of Alpine, Amador and Tuolumne still have a ban on many cannabis activities, including manufacturing, cultivation and retail.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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