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Pride 2017: Medical cannabis CEO leads the way to better products

by Sari Staver

 SPARC CEO Erich Pearson walks among rows of cannabis<br>plants at his farm in Sonoma County. Photo: Erich Pearson<br><br>
 SPARC CEO Erich Pearson walks among rows of cannabis
plants at his farm in Sonoma County. Photo: Erich Pearson


When it comes to high quality medical marijuana, Erich Pearson keeps raising the bar.

Pearson, 40, the CEO of the seven-year-old dispensary SPARC, was the first to introduce mandatory laboratory testing of all cannabis products in San Francisco. Later this year, SPARC will be the first dispensary in the city to grow and sell its own line of organic, biodynamically grown flowers.

"Erich Pearson is driven by a clear vision of the high standards patients should experience when they visit a dispensary," said Terrance Alan, a gay man who's chair of San Francisco's Cannabis State Legalization Task Force.

"I've watched Erich refine every part of the patient experience at SPARC to give patients not just the feeling they are in good company, but to deliver the promise through great medicine, trained and dedicated staff, support services, education, and a focus on providing the best of what patients need," Alan wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

"A person with a clear vision in the cannabis industry is not unique, but finding one who is ahead of the regulatory curve most certainly is," Alan added.

Next year state regulations will require dispensaries to test all products but "Erich made sure that happened at SPARC long ago," Alan noted.

Pearson, a gay man, has been growing pot in northern California since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana. He moved to the Bay Area from Greenwood, Indiana, with a degree in construction management from Purdue University. Since then, he's not only been growing medical marijuana but he's also been involved in the construction of greenhouses where SPARC grows much of its inventory.

"Patients need a knowledgeable and compassionate partner when they start using cannabis and Erich has always been known for having top notch patient advisers," Alan wrote. "And most important is the medicine, the cannabis. To help achieve this Erich has built, with full city knowledge and approval, a sophisticated growing facility in the city where product quality is overseen from seed to medicine."

Pearson's reputation soared after he founded SPARC, which has been featured in the New York Times and Wired magazine and was cited by Fast Company as "The Apple Store of Marijuana Shops."

"People got the idea that we were expensive," said Pearson, "but we always made sure we had the best prices."

He said it was essential for the dispensary to be top-notch.

"It was always important to me that SPARC have a more professional approach" than many of the dispensaries had at the time, he said.

"We wanted to create a space and an environment where all San Franciscans would feel comfortable," Pearson explained.


The next frontier

Still maintaining an apartment in the Castro, Pearson is now spending most of his time in Sonoma County, where he operates an organic farm and cultivates sun-grown cannabis using the latest technology and practices.

"I'd rather not say too much about the project right now," Pearson said in a telephone interview with the B.A.R. "But one of the most exciting parts is that we're going to be able to grow biodynamically grown flowers."

Biodynamic farming tries to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself, Pearson explained.

Last year, when SPARC sold another grower's biodynamically grown flowers "we couldn't keep the product on the shelves," he said. "So we think it is going to be in great demand."

In the meantime, while overseeing operations at his new farm, Pearson continues his activism, serving on the board of the National Cannabis Industry Association since its founding in 2010.

As one of the nation's strongest proponents of medical cannabis regulation, cultivation, and industry best practices, Pearson also served on the San Francisco District Attorney's Medical Marijuana Advisory Group. He was instrumental in the passage of San Francisco�s Medical Cannabis Dispensary Act and the relegation of marijuana offenses to law enforcement's lowest priority.

In 2007, Pearson was appointed to sit on San Francisco's Medical Cannabis Working Group and in 2015, with Prop 64 on the horizon, Erich became the dispensary representative to San Francisco's State Cannabis Legalization Task Force, where he continues to serve.

Before he launched SPARC in 2010, Pearson co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Collective to fill the needs of low-income patients whose doctors had prescribed medical marijuana to address serious illnesses. SPARC also collaborates with local hospices, residential care facilities, and dispensaries to supply medical marijuana at no cost to seriously ill patients.

SPARC has a long history of donating to the community, Pearson said. For the past 10 years, SPARC has been donating flowers and edibles to patients at Maitri hospice as well as other patients who apply through the dispensary directly, he explained.

"That has been and always will be an important part of our work," he said.

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