While the state is pulsing with cannabis commerce in the wake of the 2016 legalization of recreational marijuana use, for one Calexico-based retailer the catalyst for entering the industry hit a bit closer to home.
The company, Valley Green Rush, was recently one of five applicants to which Imperial County granted a license. It conducts retail sales by telephone, and delivery of both recreational and medical cannabis.
Owner Joanna Villareal recalled she ran grounds-keeping company until about 10 years ago when she had a tumorous growth that required surgery. Recovery was arduous and necessitated nauseating medication. As a solution, she turned to cannabis.
"I became an advocate because I saw the good medical cannabis could do and wanted to help others," she said.
Despite initial skepticism, Villareal recalls she was persuaded by attending meetings of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. She soon realized the drug’s medicinal benefits
"For anyone who wants to get their meds, this is the safest way to do it,” she said of her operation. “With our point-of-sale trace-and-track system you don't worry about product contamination or expiration. Customers know who the driver is and what the vehicle looks like, and the delivery's exact time of arrival."
Explaining her first sale was made March 27, Villareal said it took nearly a year of preparation to get to that point. The first hurdle was to have the county inspect her facility, a 4,000-square-foot building in Calexico's Cannabis Overlay Zone on the northwest side of the city.
"There was lots of legal paperwork, loose ends the county required," said Villareal. "My building had to be compliant with state regulations and the Imperial County Health Department had us put in laminated floors (no carpets) so we could go in and mop the floors."
The company has a Calexico city permit for delivery but does not do on-site retail sales.
The facility has a control room with a security system of cameras monitoring the interior and exterior of the building. A package room with a giant wall safe and a bracketed cage store more than 100 product lines of cannabis or cannabis- infused products that serve as the anchor of operations. There is also an administration office, employee break room and cargo bays at the rear for delivery trucks.
All cannabis products are packaged so no odor can be detected and is similar to the array of products at an espresso shop display. Valley Green Rush deals with several distributors, among them LA Kush and Stone Age, to maintain a diversity of inventory.
Demonstrating the variance in which cannabis can be ingested, the company’s menu includes lozenges, gummy bears, chili lime-infused edible crackers, and a wax (appears similar to rock candy) in flavors of Grape Bubba or Cookies N Cream. For traditionalists an ounce of cannabis is $150.
Valley Green Rush can on found on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or on weedmap.com but sales are conducted over the phone. First-time customers, Villareal explained, must be verified. If it is a medical cannabis purchase, a person must be over 18 with a doctor’s recommendation. The minimum age for a recreational sale is 21.
A sales representative leads a customer through the product menu to make a selection. Then all the order processing is entered through a global positioning track-and-trace monitor device.
"Our point-of-sale system is capable of tracking each product from seed to sale so I can tell you which customer ordered, which employee processed, the driver who delivered and the customer gets a receipt by text or email," said Villareal.
Valley Green Rush strictly follows all regulations to be a role model for the industry.
"Some people think we're just standing outside using our own product, but for me, I want a professional operation. There's no consumption of any product by any employee," she said.
Villareal has seven employees including four drivers, who must be 21 or older and provide a 10-year driver's printout with no driving under the influence or reckless driving violations.
"For us, it's all about safety. I don't want to put someone on the road who's a danger," she said. "At the end of the day I want the customer to have a good experience and place another order with us."
Growth is on the horizon, she added.
"I'm hoping in the future I'll have 20 or more employees," she said. "We're doing billboards because for the recreational user, they don't know where to access cannabis. But once they call, I can guide them. We're also going to give back to the community and return a share of proceeds to the Imperial County Area Agency on Aging and the (Imperial Valley) Food Bank."