The Inland Empire has its first licensed medical marijuana dispensary, with Green America now open for business in Perris.

“This is the first time that patients will be able to purchase their products from a permitted dispensary,” said Mark Douglas, chief executive of the nonprofit that runs Green America. “This is a historic day not just for Green America Inc., but for the city of Perris and all of the Inland Empire.”

The move comes after more than 77 percent of Perris voters in November approved Measure K, an initiative put on the ballot by the Perris City Council to remove the city’s ban on marijuana businesses. The measure permits dispensaries in industrial and commercial zones, with strict rules on record keeping, buffers from schools and more.

Perris has received eight applications from aspiring dispensary owners, city spokesman Joseph Vargo said. So far, only Green America’s has been approved.

Jean Dillard from Hemet waits Wednesday, Aug. 31 for customers at the Green America medical marijuana dispensary that just opened and is the first licensed medical marijuana dispensary in the Inland Empire. FRANK BELLINO, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG

Green America is serving patients with a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana at its shop on Harley Knox Boulevard, along the 215 freeway just south of March Air Reserve Base. The shop had a soft opening Friday, Aug. 25 and a grand opening is planned in coming weeks.

It took months to go through the approval process and get the shop set up in compliance with local laws and new state regulations that will take affect Jan. 1, according to Justin Shively, who also has an ownership stake in the dispensary. He said he and his partners know the spotlight is on them as the first shop in the area, but insists they’re up to the challenge.

“It makes us want to set the standard,” Shively said, promising a clean, safe and friendly shop with competitive prices.

That last promise is key if Green America hopes to compete with nearby unlincensed shops that remain open despite city efforts to shut them down. The website Weedmaps shows 14 rogue dispensaries in Perris alone, with many more in surrounding cities such as Moreno Valley and Hemet.

Francisco Rodriguez, 40, twirls a sign along Harley Knox Boulevard for the Green America medical marijuana dispensary that just opened in Perris. FRANK BELLINO, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG

“Unfortunately, a lot of these places are not paying their proper taxes and helping our industry,” Shively said.

The four-man team behind Green America has experience dealing with this conflict. They also own New Generation, which is one of 16 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries open in Santa Ana — the only Orange County city to permit cannabis stores. And they hope to open more shops as cities consider regulating marijuana businesses, with his team looking at expanding their two-store chain in places such as Long Beach and Los Angeles.

But as an Inland Empire resident, Green America co-owner Travis Campbell said he’s particularly excited to see the local industry grow and the tax revenue that his shop will bring to Perris.

Perris voters in November also approved Measure J, which allows the council to tax dispensaries at 10 percent. The city’s attorney has estimated those businesses could add $875,000 to $1.2 million in new revenue to the city each year.

The city is also getting one-time revenue of $13,008 from every permit application submitted, Vargo said, plus $300 per owner and employee for background checks. So far, would-be dispensary owners have paid more than $100,000 in in application fees.

Jean Dillard of Hemet waits for customers at the Green America dispensary in Perris. FRANK BELLINO, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG

That’s good news for this diverse city of 76,000 people, which suffered during the past decade’s real estate foreclosure crisis and recession.

The city is best known for Lake Perris recreation area and for having one of the largest skydiving centers in North America. But the median household income in Perris is $49,325, U.S. Census data shows, and more than 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The biggest employer in Perris is Ross Dress For Less, city financial reports state. And state records show the July unemployment rate in Perris was at 9.1 percent, nearly 3 percent above Riverside County’s rate and nearly double the state and national rates.

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Perris has been able to maintain rainy-day reserve funds and revenues have fully recovered from the recession, according to its most recent budget report. But city officials note that operational costs are rising faster than revenues, so they had to dip into reserves to cover a $2.6 million deficit in the general fund for the 2015-16 fiscal year and a $2.9 million deficit for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The city is still finalizing the 2017-18 fiscal year budget, Vargo said. So it’s not yet clear whether a deficit is predicted this year or how revenue from the cannabis industry might impact city finances going forward.

Cannabis flowers available for sale at Green America medical marijuana dispensary in the Inland Empire. FRANK BELLINO, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG

Tax revenues could grow at an even faster rate if the city decides to allow Green America and any future dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.

Under Proposition 64, a state ballot measure that passed in November, all adults 21 and over will be allowed to buy cannabis starting Jan. 1. But the law also says cities get to decide whether to allow such businesses in their boundaries.

Along with legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries, Perris’ ballot measure said the city can choose to let dispensaries sell recreational cannabis. For now, the new shop is restricted to serving customers with doctor’s recommendations.

Shively said they’re proceeding cautiously as the first city in the Inland Empire to welcome marijuana businesses.

Of course, that distinction does depend on your definition of the Inland Empire.

Several Coachella Valley cities already allow dispensaries, including Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Springs. And the city of Needles, in eastern San Bernardino County near the Arizona border, also permits dispensaries.

But Perris takes the title of first dispensary-friendly city per the popular definition of the Inland Empire as being southwestern San Bernardino County and western Riverside County.

Another I.E. city is very close to following suit.

San Bernardino residents also voted in November to allow dispensaries. That ballot measure has been caught up in legal battles, but the city started taking applications from potential shop owners in June and spokeswoman Monica Lagos said the first permit was handed out on Thursday, Aug. 24.

With about 4 million people living in or near the Inland Empire, Shively sees plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to put in the effort and follow the rules. And once neighboring cities begin to see revenue from licensed marijuana businesses, he predicts more Inland Empire cities will roll out the green carpet.