Cannabis clinic enters the ‘zone’ for downtown Exeter

Exeter City Council approves amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, allow medical marijuana clinic to set up shop in town

EXETER – The Exeter City Council approved changes to the city’s zoning ordinance at their Jan. 10 meeting, allowing medical cannabis clinic BioLife to enter the community once and for all.

Mayor Frankie Alves said it was a long time coming as the clinic has wanted to set up shop in Exeter for four years. BioLife will return to the city council on Jan. 24 for a second reading of the amendment, and then it will go into effect 30 days after that, according to city manager Adam Ennis. The amendment to Exeter’s zoning ordinance will add “M (medicinal) – microbusiness, medical cannabis treatment center” to the permitted use list of the central commercial district in Exeter. 

“[The amendment] really put the book ends close together, to only allow [the specific business] that council is interested in,” Ennis said. “This would be the last step needed for that business to be able to get a permit.”

They also approved the removal of “marijuana dispensaries” from the list of prohibited uses and replaced it with “marijuana/cannabis uses not expressly authorized and regulated by the city of Exeter code of ordinances.” This change does not mean the city will be allowing recreational cannabis retail shops. 

The change to the ordinance in Exeter only allows for a medical cannabis treatment center, which is specific to BioLife. Ennis said they are still being “really restrictive” as to what they will allow. The change to the ordinance also puts a limitation of one clinic per 20,000 people, according to Ennis. 

Deputy city clerk Hilary Robello said that the change in the amendment will still allow the city to control where cannabis-infused businesses, such as BioLife, will be located in the future. Additionally, it will give council the control of any restrictions, allowances or prohibitions surrounding stores or clinics which use cannabis.

“Every time we add a new business [in the future], we’re going to talk about how [the council] would want to regulate it,” Robello said. “Then the planning commission and city council would need to consider what they’re going to do in regards to where they are going to allow it.”

Unlike cannabis dispensaries, BioLife has crafted treatments for patients suffering from pain management, refractory seizures and severe behavioral disorders. The pain management patient group that BioLife serves is mixed with moderate-to-severe chronic pain as well as more severe end-of-life pain. Their treatment focuses on reducing or eliminating opiate analgesics with equal or greater pain control. 

There are not many facilities like BioLife up and down the state of California. Currently there are two nearby facilities, with one being in Oakland and the other in Los Angeles. Alves said that this clinic already serves over 300 patients from Tulare County. By opening one in the Central Valley, it could provide a huge help to local patients. Before the city began the process to make the changes allowing for a medicinal cannabis location, they had a strict no-cannabis policy.

“Their idea was to try and make a way where the patients and their families don’t have to go that far of a distance [for treatment],” Alves said. 

Though the city will not be able to receive any cannabis tax revenue from the clinic, Alves said that the main benefit will be providing residents with more attainable treatment. From a business aspect, councilwoman Barbara Sally said it would bring Central Valley residents to Exeter, drawing in business for local restaurants and stores. Since 2019, when BioLife first approached city council, their patient list from the valley has skyrocketed, according to Alves, and they even get referrals from Valley Children’s Hospital. 

Alves also assured residents at the council meeting that people cannot buy marijuana at the clinic. Instead, it is solely prescription based, and is only available for patients of the clinic with chronic illnesses. 

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