Hundreds lined up — some 22 hours before the event — for the grand opening of Cookies Fresno grand opening last Sunday at Blackstone and Shaw avenues. Photo by Frank Lopez

published on December 29, 2023 – 2:15 PMWritten by Frank Lopez

Although the City of Fresno has allowed commercial cannabis dispensaries to operate since the end of 2018, it has been a slow grow.

Demand is there. Hundreds lined up for the grand opening of Fresno’s fourth recreational cannabis dispensary, Cookies, at 5048 N. Blackstone Ave. on Dec. 17.

They started lining up 22 hours before the event, hoping to get a glimpse of one of the recreational cannabis industry’s shining stars. Many were able to take photos with Cookies founder, CEO, and rapper Gilbert Anthony Milam Jr., better known as Berner.

Berner has built up the Cookies brand and franchise for over 10 years and has 55 stores in four countries.

Berner was featured in Forbes’ “The Cannabis 42.0” list of top industry trailblazers for 2023.

The Business Journal’s inaugural list of Recreational Cannabis Dispensaries on Dec. 22 featured 20 locations currently operating in cities and tribal areas across the Central Valley. There about a half dozen total in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties.

In addition to the Tribal Nation Flower Company operated by the Chukchansi in Coarsegold, the local cities that currently host recreational cannabis storefronts are Parlier, Coalinga, Porterville, Hanford, Mendota, Firebaugh, Woodlake, Coalinga, Porterville, Tulare, Lemoore, Farmersville and Fresno.

Fresno resident Kacey Auston is CEO with a 51% ownership stake in Cookies Fresno. Auston is the founder of business advisory firm Auston Consulting.

Berner said in an interview with The Business Journal that having his brand opening in the Fresno market means a lot to him. Fresno supported him when he first started his rap career.

“Fresno represents my culture, its where I came from as an artist. When I started doing my thing as a musician, Fresno supported me before any other market supported me,” Berner said.

He said the heavy turnout for the grand opening was everything they expected.

Last year brought Fresno its first recreational cannabis dispensaries with the opening of the The Artist Tree and Embarc in summer 2022.

According to California Department of Tax and Fee administration, total taxable sales for legal cannabis in Fresno County hit $19.47 million in the third quarter of 2023.

According to the City of Fresno’s 2023-2024 budget, the sales tax revenue from cannabis is estimated at $1 million, and projected to growing to $5.4 million in FY 2024. The figure is based on $4.1 million in projected tax revenue, plus $1.3 million in application, permit and renewal fees.

However, the revenue growth might be an over projection.

In March, it was revealed the potential shortfall could be as high as $3 million this year.

It is now projected that tax revenue will be closer to $2.11 million next year.

In Q3 2023, Kings County saw $6.98 million in total taxable sales, and Tulare County saw $15.3 million.

Coalinga, the first city in Fresno County to have a legal recreational (Cookies brand) dispensary, saw the most significant general fund revenue changes for FY 23/24, with a decrease from $976,363 to $440,064 in cannabis tax revenue and a decrease from $142,621 to $100,526 in cannabis regulatory permit license fees.

In Porterville, $988,705 in tax revenue in FY 2023 was collected from the city’s two dispensaries, Haven and Culture Cannabis Club.

In Parlier, which only has one dispensary, Cannable, $200,000 was raised in tax revenue from 2022-2023.

Though there are currently no dispensaries operating in the city or county of Madera, the market will be sparking up in 2024.

In mid-December, the Madera City Council approved permits for six cannabis retail or microbusinesses out of 16 that applied.

Madera will soon be home to Cannable, Embarc, Stiiizy, Culture Cannabis Club, Mainstream and Lavish.

In January 2023, Token Farms, which has a location in Farmersville, opened up in Tulare, near the Tulare Outlets.

In 2022 several cannabis dispensaries opened in the Central Valley, including Element 7 in Firebaugh, which opened in April, and Valley Pure in Tulare.

Last December it was announced that Embarc would open in Hanford by the summer of 2023, but it is not operating yet.

 Although the City of Fresno has allowed commercial cannabis dispensaries to operate since the end of 2018, it has been a slow grow. Demand is there. Hundreds lined up for the grand opening of Fresno’s  Read More