Commentary: The Downtown Is the Place for Dispensaries

There has been an interesting lack of controversy involving commercial cannabis dispensaries in this community.  To the extent that there has been any controversy whatsoever, it has been due to discussions over location rather than having dispensaries at all.

Some of that is perhaps due to the fact that 74 percent of Davis voters voted for Prop. 64.  But perhaps more importantly, the key constituency for recreational cannabis would appear to be the Baby Boomer population that remains a formidable political force in the community.

There have been two main issues regarding location on Tuesday.  The first revolved around the issue of safety and crime.  The second is over whether and to what extent to have the dispensaries in the Davis Downtown.

Let me address the element of crime first.  I have had an opportunity to meet with and tour a number of possible sites and the thing that has struck me most is the attention to detail in terms of security.   There are some concerns about the fact that these will largely be cash businesses – although the Good People Farms presentation suggested there are possibilities for banking – and that is something the state legislature is going to need to figure out fast.

But, even without banking, Good People Farms talked about the use of cash machines to avoid the direct handling of cash and securing both currency and product off-site in secure facilities.

The idea is by making it more difficult to actually get their hands on product or currency, it will discourage break ins and theft.

The Good People Farms cited states’ reports that cannabis locations will actually reduce crime in the immediate area, and there is reason to believe that because they will have security and surveillance on and near the site.

In addition, it was interesting that the Vanguard ran the Paul Fullerton story the same day as the one about the discussion of commercial cannabis.  He told the Vanguard that, following his injury, he was taking roughly 14 different medicines each day for pain and other management.  Many people who suffer chronic injuries end up using high doses of opiates, to which they inevitably become addicted.

Opiate addiction is a major health and crime problem.  But there is evidence that the use of medical cannabis reduces opiate abuse and evidence that the availability of legal cannabis reduces opiate-related deaths.

The Good People Farms presentation found that there was a 33 percent decrease in opiate-related deaths in 13 states following the legalization of cannabis.

Councilmember Will Arnold picked up on this point during his comments.  He said, “I reject this notion that somehow these dispensaries are going to be havens for crime.”

He noted that there was a vandalism that occurred across the street from the 416 F Street location of the F Street Dispensary, and noted that had that dispensary been in place, the vandalism likely would have been caught on video and the perpetrator caught.  He noted with irony that the owner of that location came out that night in opposition to the F Street location.

That leads me to the discussion of locations.  I was initially troubled by a comment made by Brett Lee that he did not want to see dispensaries in the core area, citing concerns over parking.

But that seemed a view held mostly by the mayor pro tem himself, rather than the entire four-member council that will be voting on this.

The mayor pro tem’s concerns are largely around parking and access issues.  He offered a clear preference away from the core and pushed for the two locations on 2nd Street and two on Olive Drive.

But the other members of council were more inclined toward “geographic diversity” and pushed more toward the idea of at least one location in the core.

Councilmember Arnold was one of those pushing for geographic diversity.

“The downtown area is obviously very unique, a very important part of our community,” he said.  “I’m a little bit more optimistic that we can make these work in our downtown.

“Downtown is where we want to bring people,” he said.  “So to me, saying that a place is going to bring a lot of people downtown is a good thing.  That’s where we want to bring people.”

For Mayor Robb Davis this is one of the final major acts of his tenure that will be up at the end of June.

Mayor Davis said, “We have an opportunity to put a stamp on the way we want things to run in our community.”

In terms of location, he offered, “We do want to see these geographically dispersed.”

He echoed several of his colleagues by stating, “I’m open about getting one in the downtown.

“I’m not worried about parking,” Mayor Davis would add.

On the one hand, he said, we complain, “I can’t find parking. No one goes there because it’s all parked out. If it’s all parked out, where’s everyone at? We’re not just parking here and walking to Woodland.

“I’ve lived in the downtown, it is a thriving downtown,” he continued. “Yes, it has it problems, but I’ll take our downtown over pretty much any other downtown I’ve walked in for the last decade… The cannabis industry coming into our downtown is not going to kill it… We can bring actual retail back into the downtown.”

So he said, “I’m very open to a downtown location.”

During the meeting, a lot of us chuckled at the person who complained that the downtown was too crowded and thus no one wanted to go there anymore.  It reminded me of one of the Yogi Berra quips that the restaurant is too crowded, no one goes there anymore.

In my view, I think that some locations out of the core are appropriate, and if we are going to five, two or three outside the core will be good.

I am actually more concerned about the Olive Drive locations than the downtown locations because, if they close down the freeway off-ramp in two or three years, the accessibility of that location will or at least could be poor.

Some of the proposals on 2nd Street outside of the core look like good projects and locations.  I was particularly impressed by the Kana Company’s presentation.

However, here, I want to make the case for the downtown, as I have in the past.

First, if you look at the three main proposals in the core – you have All Good Wellness on G Street, F Street Dispensary on F Street, and the Good People Farm at 3rd Street right by Newsbeat.  The council kept the D Street location of Manna Roots on the list for now, but those are basically your three downtown locations.

All of them are within walking distance of  the 4th and G Street parking garage.  Two of them have sufficient onsite parking and The Good People Farm is not required to have onsite parking because of their current zoning.

There is a lot of evidence that many of the orders will either be delivery or on foot or bike.

So I don’t agree that parking is going to be a major problem.  And moreover, while it is true that 200 visits a day sounds like a big number, if you break it out, you are looking at those visits spread over an eight- to ten-hour period.  You are talking an average of one visit every five minutes.

The second issue is the notion that somehow we don’t want businesses in the downtown core that draw patrons.  That one still baffles me, but part of the problem is that some of the nearby neighbors at a place like F Street are not commercial retail – and so that is itself a problem.

Third, we want foot traffic where we can have a multiplier effect.  As much as I may like the 2nd Street proposals, putting dispensaries away from other commerce doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.  We want locations where people who come to purchase their cannabis, stop to get food and coffee, will frequent retail stores and spend their money in the area around the downtown.

Bottom line, I agree with Robb Davis here, the cannabis industry is not going to kill our downtown and it may help it.

Finally, the thing that impressed me most and should give more people hope is the class of these establishments.  These aren’t head shops.  These are high class outfits that will be clean and professional.

Paul Fullerton made the comment to me that he told the Board of Supervisors in 2015: “I didn’t roll out of the van with a bunch of smoke and hit myself with a shoe and say, that’s my skull.”

None of the people who applied on Tuesday did either.  Many of them are young business professionals, who look like they just got their MBAs at Columbia rather than stereotypical pot heads.  That is where the industry is going.  And that is what is going to help bring it legitimacy.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    Since we are starting anew with these dispensaries, it would seem to me we have a great opportunity for comparison. I would recommend putting a couple of dispensaries in the downtown, and a couple in more distant locations essentially as a pilot. It would then be possible to measure the traffic ( foot, bike, and car)  in and out of each site, the effects on adjacent businesses and the increase or decrease in crime in the area. With this data, we would be able to make more rational decisions about a “second wave” if and when applicable.

    1. David Greenwald

      Sounds like they will go with five.  So that should give them a mix.  My point here is in objection to those who have argued not to have more than one in the core, it just seems silly that we would worry about traffic in the core area from too much business.  If we don’t want business there, we’re in the wrong business… frankly.

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