is home to zero red lights, a fast food restaurant and seven cannabis companies

From the outside, Jose Rivas’ gray single-story office building looks every bit as unassuming as Woodlake, the small town in Tulare County where it’s located. But once you’ve been escorted inside the wrought-iron gate and checked into the security desk, you’ll see a chemistry lab of so many potheads’ dreams: bubbling evaporators, liquid nitrogen storage tanks, and trays. and marijuana drying trays. buds.

A selection of cannabis-derived terpenes sit on a table ready for testing at the Premium Extracts lab in Woodlake.

But Rivas is no pothead – he’s the CEO of a cannabis company known as Premium Extracts that presses, distills and steams everything he can from the flower. “Essentially, what we have developed here is a methodology to isolate the components and molecules of the cannabis plant, which are responsible for its taste, flavor and all the nuanced aroma that comes from each cannabis strain” , said Rivas.

In one room, Rivas showed me pots filled with almost pure THC, thick and oozing like tree sap. In another, freezers filled with vials of yellow and orange oils known as terpenes. “Have you ever smelled refined terpenes before? He asked. When the answer was no, he retrieved a dozen tiny bottles and a glass dropper, setting us up for a scent test. “It’s going to be a cool experience,” he said knowingly.

Terpenes are a lot like cannabis essential oils. They add natural flavor and fragrance to products, without any of the active THC or CBD ingredients. “We have some that are heavy, as I would describe them as a lot of hot sugar and skunk,” he said. Others are fruity, like Pineapple Pez and Banana OG. And then there was the bottle simply labeled Mimosa. “This one to me smells like, if you could imagine, a purple tangerine,” he said. Unfortunately, I couldn’t imagine a purple tangerine.

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Premium Extracts CEO Jose Rivas holds a jar of pure THC, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis. It is one of several cannabis extracts produced by his Woodlake-based company.

The language may be awkward, but Rivas is not kidding. His company has patented its terpene extraction process — it’s microwaves with holes cut in the bottom to make room for glass tubes — and each stick-sized vial of oil is worth a few thousand dollars. Rivas said they were used in high-end vape pens.

“Of course, everyone enjoys the euphoric feeling associated with recreational cannabis, but there’s so much more to this plant and that’s what we’re trying to show the world,” Rivas said.

High end is a recurring theme in the cannabis world of Woodlake. Down the street, Wayne Bishop showed me a warehouse with an upscale barn aesthetic: think hardwood floors, antique tractors, and decorative mason jars filled with marijuana buds. “I hope that this year we will have a consumption permit on site. So we’re trying to turn that into a wine experience,” he said. When I suggested he might do weddings here, he said, “That’s what we’re looking for.”

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Wayne Bishop, right, CEO of 7 Points, and COO Ryan Clark examine some of the 16,000 cannabis plants growing in their warehouse in Woodlake.

For now, however, Bishop’s cash flow comes mostly from the factories themselves. His company is called 7 Points – for the distinctive leaf formation of the plant – and it is a cannabis grower and regional delivery service. In vast, sprawling halls, 16,000 plants grow under a scorching artificial sun. “We produce between 100 and 150 pounds of flowers a week,” he said.

Whatever stereotypes you associate with illicit weed, these companies are trying to shake them off. Their facilities are clean and professional, and they prefer the term “cannabis” to “weed” or “marijuana”. They almost consider themselves winemakers, only instead of chardonnay or pinot noir they sell Cherry AK-47 and Obama Cush. “We’re really hoping to hit the wine industry where people will join our club,” Bishop said, “and every quarter we’ll send you a really cool wooden crate with flowers and maybe some hand-blown flowers. pipes, maybe some of our edibles, just kind of a nice package to show on your doorstep.

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Residents of Woodlake approved a citywide 5% cannabis sales tax in 2017, shortly after recreational cannabis was legalized statewide in 2016.

They are among seven cannabis companies currently operating in Woodlake, which was the first town in the San Joaquin Valley to embrace recreational cannabis in 2017. In contrast, Fresno, a city 60 times larger, would not approve of its first dispensaries before four others. years.

So how did this recreational revolution happen in Woodlake, a town of 7,500 people, a fast-food chain, and zero red lights? As soon as California voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, city leaders recognized an opportunity. “It seemed like something that, based on our outreach, that a lot of people in the city were in favor of, and the city council was open to it, and the staff were open to it,” said community development manager Jason. Waters, “so he said to us, ‘hey, let’s try.’

Waters and other leaders have welcomed new businesses while imposing a 5% sales tax on all cannabis products, limiting dispensaries so that only two can operate at a time and imposing safety measures such as employee background checks and 24-hour video surveillance. “You really need a comprehensive set of rules,” Waters said. “It was really the first step, the first thing we did.”

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Woodlake Community Development Manager Jason Waters stands in front of one of the many parks that have been renovated thanks to the city’s 5% cannabis sales tax.

Waters spent an afternoon driving me around town, showing off the lush green grass and jungle gyms in the many parks that have been enhanced with the cannabis sales tax. So far, the parks have benefited from two-thirds of the roughly $2 million in sales tax the city has earned since 2017. “The biggest…is Castle Rock Park. He started from a vacant lot,” he said. “There was grass on it, but we have football goals, baseball fields, we put toilets there. These things happened because of the increase in income that we had thanks to this tax .”

The sales tax was approved by two-thirds of voters, but not all residents are happy. Many tell me they still feel conflicted with the industry, and others fear being overwhelmed by outsiders.

And with a shortage of recreational cannabis dispensaries in the area, people flocked in from all over. Officials at Valley Pure, the first recreational dispensary to open in the valley, told me that hundreds of people stop by there every day.

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Assistant manager Tommy Fields shows off a handful of cannabis products on display at the Valley Pure dispensary in Woodlake.

“Here we have all our gummies, they’re $10 a pack,” said sales associate Monica Fields, also known as the “budtender,” pointing to well-lit shelves filled with vape pens, flowers vacuum sealed and a plethora of edibles. . “Pretzels, brownies, cookies, you name it, we probably had it,” she said.

Assistant manager Tommy Fields, who is married to Monica Fields, said they also have niche products, like CBD suppositories. “I heard from a friend… his wife used it for her menstrual cramps and they went away. It completely killed her menstrual symptoms,” he said.

The afternoon I’m there, I meet a couple in their twenties who are stocking up for a vacation, as well as Jared Rosson, an Air Force vet who injured his back during his department. “Unfortunately the hospitals want to give you all the painkillers, and that’s not good, it’s a much better way,” he said.

Rosson, who drives 25 minutes to Woodlake from Three Rivers, said he couldn’t believe it took so long to legalize recreational cannabis. But while the rest of the Valley has been slow to figure it out, he’s glad Woodlake, at least, is ready.

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