A Californian City is Having a Change of Heart with Cannabis

Stephen Andrews
07 Aug 2021

California voted to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, while medical cannabis has been legal in this state since the 1990s. For years, the city of Modesto has resisted the idea of embracing a legal cannabis business. Until now.

People are quick to perceive California as one of the most liberal places on the planet when it comes to marijuana production and consumption. As a lucrative business, cannabis has been shown to turn vast swathes of desert terrain into lush green plantations high on THC. Californian universities partner with companies to create internship opportunities where young people can hone cannabis knowledge and skills. The Golden State is also a leader in ecommerce and online sales of cannabis products. 

However, the city of Modesto, home of over 200,000 people in the state's Central Valley, has not been so enthusiastic to permit cannabis businesses so fast. For far too long has the city banned dispensaries from operating within its territory in Stanislaus County. And those who have tried to run a legal medical dispensary business in the past have well landed in jail despite paying taxes and obeying state laws. 

Only in 2019 have Modesto authorities allowed the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. While they have been clear on their stance on weed (they are still keeping away dispensaries from the downtown area), they now have plenty of reason to advance the status of cannabis in the county. And it seems they are finally doing so. (Better late than never). 

With the onset of the pandemic, Modesto — like so many other places around the US and overseas — has lost big on the tourism sector. But there has been a spike in cannabis commerce. Enough to prompt Modesto's official convention and visitors bureau to officially promote the city's cannabis dispensaries as tourist attractions.

Modesto's tourism board began brainstorming ideas to attract visitors to an area located near the Interstate-5 freeway connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area as well as the main route from the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park, the Modesto Bee recently reported

As tourism dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting cannabis seemed the smart thing to do among city officials. According to the Bee, about 40 percent of the customer base at the city's roughly twenty cannabis dispensaries are from out of town. During 2020, this group spent enough to contribute $3.2 million in cannabis business taxes for the city. The sum was more than the city's hotel tax, and one-sixth of the city's draw from property taxes, budget documents revealed. 

This has put Modesto in a very favorable position. As a byway in between destinations, the city can further benefit from more cannabis operators coming to the area, as tourism stabilizes in a post-pandemic world. 

Todd Aaronson, CEO of Visit Modesto, told the California newspaper travelers are driving around a lot, they are looking for new experiences, "and if 30% of all travelers are interested in cannabis in one way, shape, or another, well then why don't we help them find easy access and enjoy the process."

To this end, the city has introduced its "MoTown CannaPass," a scheme that mimics average beer, wine, or coffee tours; however, the program still needs some polishing. MoTown CannaPass is, for now, more educational than entertaining. But given that the city has only recently embraced its legal cannabis sector, it's probably sufficient the way it is. 

Anyone who signs up for a CannaPass could pick up some stickers, a grinder, and a lighter from the local Cookies dispensary. While it might seem a joke to some users, for a place like Modesta that so openly refused cannabis until a few years ago, this is like walking into a new age. And maybe, just maybe, by next summer they begin passing around some free joints or bag of weed.

Stephen Andrews