Cannabis grow. (Photo by Beverly Yuen Thompson/Flickr)

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has selected four prospective operators of storefront retail marijuana dispensaries, and seven hopeful operators of cannabis cultivation businesses to move forward in a permitting process for the county’s first adult-use cannabis stores and commercial grow operations in unincorporated areas.

These 11 operators have been given the nod to go through the county conditional use permit process — one that Supervisor John Gioia estimates to be a six- to 12-month process. None of the businesses is guaranteed to get the permits they need, supervisors stressed; in that event, eligible applicants that did not make the cut this month could be considered in the future.

The process for choosing the retail storefronts was competitive; 21 operators submitted proposals to the county, all but one of which were determined to be eligible by county grading standards. Chosen to move forward in the process were The Artist Tree in El Sobrante, near Richmond; Authentic 925 in Pacheco, between Martinez and Pleasant Hill; Embarc in unincorporated Martinez; and Element 7 in Bay Point, next to Pittsburg.

Authentic 925, The Artist Tree and Embarc were first, second and third in the county’s rankings of its applicants of retail sellers. Element 7 was ninth, but got the nod ahead of several others largely by virtue of its location, and was one of only two East County hopefuls.

Supervisor Federal Glover, who represents the Martinez area, voiced support for Elemental Wellness over Embarc, because Elemental has “site control” of the building from which it would operate. There has been a tussle as to whether Elemental or Embarc would get that building, at 3503 Pacheco Blvd. Its owner told the supervisors the property is in escrow associated with a sale to Elemental.

Supervisors stressed that all chosen candidates have 90 days to secure the properties where they would do business. And Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and Diane Burgis said they favored letting the county ranking process guide their choices.

“We’re picking from a lot of great applications,” said Burgis, who nonetheless agonized over the choice. Elemental was number eight in the county staff rankings.

The city of Martinez recently selected Embarc to operate a retail dispensary on Alhambra Avenue. That selection has been controversial because the proposed site is about two and a half blocks from Alhambra High School.

The process for cultivation business selection was relatively straightforward. Of 19 prospective operators who applied to seek permits, the county deemed only seven of their proposals eligible. All of them were invited to move ahead in the permitting process.

Contra Costa County’s cannabis ordinance allows for up to four storefront retailers in unincorporated portions of the county, 10 commercial cannabis cultivators and two commercial manufacturers in agricultural zones within the county.

In February, the supervisors issued a formal request for proposals from prospective operators to vie for those permits. Fifty-three operators were invited to submit proposals. Of that number, 40 full proposals were received: 21 for storefront retail and 19 for commercial cultivation. No proposals for the establishment of commercial manufacturing in agricultural districts were received.

At this month’s meeting, more than 60 speakers offered either support or criticism of the various retail and cultivation plans. Several labor union officers supported either specific proposals or the desirability of cannabis businesses in general; other speakers said they would be grateful to have cannabis, including medical, closer to their homes.

By far the most vociferous opposition was reserved for Element 7 Chestnut, whose growing operation would be off Chestnut Street in an agricultural area east of Brentwood. Several nearby residents, including seven members of one family, complained that operation would bring traffic, crime, strong odors, lighting and other unwanted things to their rural homes, and could indeed forever alter their lifestyle. Pot, they said, is the wrong kind of grow in their fertile ag zone.

Chestnut Street resident Shelly McMahon said she loves waking up to the small of fresh-cut alfalfa. “Now we’re going to wake up to the stench of cannabis.”

The 11 chosen applicants will have until March 9 to submit the applications. The permitting process, including vetting and the procedure for notifying residents and businesses near any of the prospective operators, will get more intense going forward, Gioia said.