Harvest Corner

Project Manager Robert Kao holds up a display container for their bud bar: a magnifier on top with a membrane on the side that allows customers to study up close, and smell, samples of cannabis.

Banning’s City Manager Doug Schulze seems impressed as he looks around Harvest Corner Friday afternoon, the city’s second cannabis dispensary to open in a month.

It is brightly lit, clean and inviting.

“My biggest fear was that it was going to turn into another vape or smoke shop,” says Schulze, in attendance of a private event for city officials and Harvest Corner supporters, a day before it officially opened on Feb. 13.

Schulze likens Harvest Corner to a trendy retail shop.

“It feels like I’m in an Apple store,” Schulze says.

It’s that difference that the dispensary’s partners emphasize: an inviting atmosphere.

Manager Jeff Mao explains that a lot of cannabis shops “are not free for customers to just roam and inspect things. Here you can pick things up, study them, check things out. A lot of shops try to protect their product, because it’s expensive,” and keep them in display cases and behind clear barriers.

“We put a lot of trust in our customers,” Mao says.

The store’s partners visited other retailers in the industry and ultimately chose to open their first shop together in Banning.

“We feel there’s a need here, and the city’s demonstrated that it’s pro-cannabis,” Mao says. “It generates a lot of tax revenue, and we provide a needed service. Everything we sell is tested to the millionth degree. There are no pesticides like you might find at a chop shop,” what he says is industry slang for illegal cannabis stores.

“We want to feel welcoming and allow customers to browse, read the descriptions of products and be able to pick them up,” says Project Manager Robert Kao.

Dan Fried, a business partner and the shop’s operations manager, is a strong advocate for the products they sell.

“My dad has diabetes. This stuff works in minutes: he can barely stand, but once we apply products to his feet, he’s almost instantly able to stand,” Fried says. Referring to product ingredients, “THC and CBD have amazing benefits for nerve damage, arthritis” and other afflictions that can benefit from topical application — similar to many pharmaceutical products. “CBD-infused products sold over the counter at CVS don’t do anything,” he contends. “This stuff is the real deal. There’s a vast difference between” the diluted CBD commercial products in most traditional retailers, compared to what can be found in a regulated dispensary.

Kao says that Banning has been particularly supportive of their business.

“The process has been great,” he says. “It took some time, but the city was obviously very excited for us to open.”

Banning voters approved cannabis cultivation in 2018, and passed measures that year to allow the city to collect taxes on retailers, manufacturers and distributors of cannabis products.

The city capped the number of dispensaries at one per 10,000 residents; Banning has a population of roughly 30,000 or so.

Dispensaries were granted permits through a lottery system nearly two years ago.

Last year the city, dismayed that anticipated tax revenues were yet to be seen, narrowly garnered enough support to raise that cap to approve more than three dispensaries, and ordered its staff to come up with a policy to allow microbusinesses — vertically integrated cannabis retailers who can grow, package and sell their own products, similar to how a microbrewery might work.

Harvest Corner, situated right next to the DMV at 1034 W. Ramsey St. in Banning, is a walk-in facility, with no appointment required. The retailer is working with a credit union in order to eventually accept debit cards. Until that happens, they can only accept cash payments.

Banning Planning Commissioner David Lopez dropped in to check out what his commission had approved so many months ago.

“It finally came through. It’s nice to see it open for business,” Lopez says. “A lot of people have mixed emotions of what kind of crowd it will draw, but looking around, this definitely removes that stigma. It’s professionally run.”

Laura Leindecker, a consultant who worked with Harvest Corner to get them through the local permitting process, is proud of her constituent’s opening.

“It’s important that Measure N and O were brought to the ballot to the voters,” she says, referring to the two measures passed by the majority of Banning’s voters in 2018: Measure N set a commercial cannabis cultivation tax at $15 per square foot of canopy space, with an option of increasing it to $25 per square foot; and Measure O set a 10 percent tax on gross receipts of cannabis retail outlets such as Harvest Corner and a branch of Culture Cannabis Club at 1474 W. Ramsey St. (which opened a month earlier), with an option of raising the tax to 15 percent.

“I never thought that cannabis itself — the product — would be something I ever would work on” as a business consultant, Leindecker contends, but she and another client, John Weeks, who is working on a commercial cultivation facility within the city, helped advocate the issue for voters. “I feel like I’ve come full circle on a cannabis project such as this.”

Harvest Corner is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and closed on major holidays.

For information, call (951) 267-3521.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , and messages may be left at (951) 849-4586 x114.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

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