Following an appeal filed in March 2019, a Level II medical marijuana cultivator has been issued a provisional license positioning it to be the first company to grow legal marijuana in Cuyahoga County.
According to the Ohio Department of Commerce, Cielo Jardin LLC was awarded a provisional license on April 2 for a marijuana cultivation facility planned at 21700 St. Clair Ave. in Euclid.
Cielo Jardin effectively translates as “heavenly garden” in Spanish, said Brendon Friesen, an attorney with Cleveland law firm Mansour Gavin who represented the cultivator in its appeal and is serving as a company spokesman. (Cielo Jardin more literally translates to “sky garden,” but “cielo” is used colloquially in Mexican culture to refer to “heaven” or “heavenly,” Friesen said.)
Friesen has a stake in the business, which will be run by his father, Cielo CEO and retired physician Reginald Friesen.
Cielo was disqualified for a cultivation license by state regulators in December 2017, making this case one of a few rare instances in Ohio where an appeal for a previously denied license issued through the Medical Marijuana Control Program has worked out for the applicant.
Cielo originally scored high enough in its application to win a license, but was disqualified after it was discovered during a background check that an individual listed as the company’s master grower in the original application had a felony record. That individual was charged with marijuana trafficking (of less than 25 pounds) in Florida in 2010 and pleaded guilty to the lesser included felony offense of manufacture of cannabis, according to court documents.
On Feb. 5, Judge Hollie Gallagher at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas found the state should have awarded Cielo the provisional license and ordered regulators to reconsider issuing one pending Cielo’s submission of an amended application with a new master grower. That appeal centered on how Cielo wasn’t given an opportunity to amend its application before being disqualified.
The Friesen family has existing ties to legal marijuana businesses, as Brendon’s sister, Laurel Friesen, is the founder, CEO and chief extractor at Heylo Cannabis in Seattle. Beyond family ties, Laurel and that company have no formal affiliation with Cielo, Brendon said.
Cielo did apply for dispensary and processor licenses in Ohio, but those have also so far been denied. Brendon said the company has moved on from the dispensary license but is appealing the ruling on the processing license.
Cielo’s St. Clair Avenue property features two warehouses of 19,200 square feet and 11,680 square feet, respectively, according to property records. The site was previously home to a company that made precast concrete molds, which moved out five or six years ago.
“I commend (Cielo Jardin) for sticking with this. I’m just so excited they’ve been awarded a pre-license,” said Jonathan Holody, Euclid’s planning and development director, noting that Euclid city council passed rezoning legislation to allow for the cultivation facility and that the city has been supportive of the project in general. “For Euclid, this is going to transform a vacant building into a productive facility. And that’ll bring jobs to our community. Most exciting, this has the potential to be the first cultivation facility in Cuyahoga County.”
There is only one other marijuana cultivator positioned to operate in Cuyahoga County: Parma Wellness Center LLC.
That business was granted a Level I cultivation provisional license in November 2017, according to state records, but the status of that project is unclear.
Ohio law requires aspiring cultivators to pass an inspection to earn their certificate of operation within nine months of being granted a provisional license. However, the director for the Department of Commerce has the authority to permit extensions.
Jennifer Jarrell, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said the department “continues to work” with Parma Wellness “to ensure that the company is compliant with its representation as being owned and controlled by an economically disadvantaged group outlined in its cultivator application.”
According to its application, Parma Wellness is 51% owned by Dr. Sheldon Rose, who is chairman of the department of emergency medicine at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center. Per its application, he’s listed as Parma Wellness’s chief science officer. Remaining ownership is split among Scott Barker, who is listed as Parma Wellness’s CEO; John Fife Symington IV, listed as chief operating officer; and Richard Parizek, listed as chief compliance officer.
Barker and Symington are also owners of Copperstate Farms of Snowflake, Ariz. That company bills itself as “one of the largest greenhouse cannabis producers in North America” and lists 350 employees at that facility on its website.
Parma mayor Tim Degeeter said construction had begun on a facility for Parma Wellness — which is located in an industrial park along Corporate Drive next to Eaton Electrical — but the project has stalled, and he hasn’t heard any updates for some time.
“We had been hearing for several months they are close to getting the OK to move forward again,” Degeeter said, noting the city is eager for the business to get up and running. “We would obviously like to see construction resume.”
“Cities (like us) need these jobs and income to provide services because everyone is on the downturn,” he added.
Brendon Friesen said if the processing license comes through, Cielo would develop that operation in the smaller warehouse on its Euclid site. The larger building will house the grow op that, as a Level II facility, is permitted 3,000 square feet of marijuana growing space initially, with options to double and triple growing space from there as needed with state approval. He said Cielo has every intention of scaling up as much as it can.
“We hope to have our first plants under lights in Q1 of 2021,” Brendon said, providing the company secures its certificate of operation in the future as expected.
He said architectural and engineering design is underway, but declined to say how much of an investment is going into the project.
It’s been a long road to get to this point for Cielo Jardin.
Reginald Friesen, who operates Candu Development LLC and owns a number of low-income housing properties in Northeast Ohio, purchased the Euclid property for $350,000 in April 2017, according to property records. He’s been sitting on it ever since.
“It was a gamble to invest in and buy a building for this,” Brendon said. “Ultimately, the gamble paid off.”
There are just 20 of 33 provisionally licensed marijuana cultivators (10 large growers and 10 small) and 20 of 45 processors in operation in Ohio today, according to the state. The dispensary end of the industry has come a bit further along, with 51 of 56 provisionally licensed retailers currently open.
Marijuana retail sales have been steadily growing. Weekly sales topped $4 million in mid-April for the first time since sales began in January 2019.
As of May 11, there had been $113 million in sales since January 2019, according to state figures. Total sales this year have already edged past total sales made in all of 2019.