On Tuesday night, the Davis City Council decided what the future of cannabis in Davis would look like. The answer, at least to start, is not what you might have thought even 24 months ago. I have a lot of different reflections that I will share here.
First, if you were expecting a bunch of head shops to be opening, or a bunch of ex-hippies, or some surfer dude rolling out of his van, enveloped in smoke and smacking his head with his shoe, you will likely be surprised.
At least at the start, the cannabis industry in Davis is looking like high class, upper market, professional businesses. They are led by fairly young, business savvy leadership teams that look like they would be more at home at Harvard Business School than surfing the waves at Venice Beach. And that’s the point.
Cannabis figures to be a huge cash industry and the early movers in Davis look more like entrepreneurs than stereotypical consumers.
The question, of course, long term is whether we move from these high class, specialized business models to a more widespread consumer-based product where you can buy your cannabis products with your smokes and alcohol at the local 7-Eleven.
Second, I was surprised by just how uncontroversial this whole thing was. Hey, this is Davis, which agonizes over things like setbacks on new infill developments and which is notorious for things like its noise ordinance, and this whole process went off with hardly a dissenting voice.
Yes, there was some debate over location and traffic, but it was minor.
It is true that we as a community supported Prop. 64 with 70 percent of the vote, but Davis residents have a way of supporting policies like this in concept, as long as the actual dispensaries are located in Sonoma and Mendocino and maybe Sacramento rather than F Street in Davis. That didn’t happen here.
Perhaps one reason for that is that the key consumer of the product is likely to be the ex-hippie, baby boomer class that still dominates Davis politics. I was a bit surprised to learn from one of the applicants that baby boomers rather than millennial college students dominate the consumer base.
Overall, I was impressed by all of the applicants. While some question the wisdom of the council, in effect picking winners and losers, I was favorable to the point raised by Robb Davis that we are moving from a prohibited industry to a permissible industry. Caution is paramount to a successful transition.
Mayor Robb Davis would add, “When we move from prohibition to allowable use, we have a community that, whatever their stance on cannabis is, has some anxiety. For me, getting it right, right out of the gate, is most important.”
He said, “We wanted to make sure we were bringing the community along with us. I can say with a lot of assurance, I think a lot of people are ready.
“When I think of my own life and what I was taught about cannabis and sort of the fear that marijuana instilled in me at a very early age, to even be sitting here, considering approving it, from a city, is quite a stretch,” he said. “We have to bring the entire community to that point.”
With that said, there is certainly room for second guessing individual decisions. Here I do have some critical thoughts.
At the outset here, I will say I don’t have any problem individually with any of the five chosen. In fact, I think the council really could not go wrong here.
However, let us start with the decision, if only de facto, of having only one downtown dispensary. I really question the fear. I think the words of Janis Lott should ring true, in her pushing for the dispensary that would have located next to Newsbeat, when she pointed out that they do business on the order of 200-plus customers a day and no one complains.
That business, Good People Farms, received two votes, falling just shy of approval. Meanwhile the G Street applicant, All Good Wellness, with a local and experienced ownership group, got zero votes.
I have been a believer in moving more dispensaries into the downtown. I do not agree with those worried about parking or too much business. I think that reasoning is absurd.
I see a huge economic benefit to moving more to the downtown. I was moved by the presentation by Good People Farms, which showed the positive impact of such a business locally.
In their presentation they talked about the economic multiplier and halo effect. They argue that there will be a 4x multiplier effect – with every dollar generated by consumers which they spend at dispensaries, there will be another $3 of economic value injected into the local community.
They cited states’ statistics to show an eight percent increase in home property values, 15 to 30 percent increase in revenue to nearby businesses coming from dispensary clients, and higher than average tourism.
“I’m not worried about parking,” Mayor Davis said at the previous meeting in early May. He said that “we are very inconsistent.”
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.”
The other four approved businesses are farther away from other businesses, they will not draw people into the downtown. I believe the council will regret having only one approved downtown dispensary.
I was surprised that Olive Drive got two dispensaries. Here we have a location that already has traffic concerns. The intersection at Olive and Richards remains problematic. And we are going to end up closing the freeway off ramp within a few years. I don’t have a problem with one, but two located there doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense.
Finally, while the location of River City Phoenix was always problematic, I’m surprised it got only one vote. Its progressive labor policies would have seemed to have been a draw in progressive Davis, but perhaps not a big enough one.
Bottom line, I don’t think the council could have gone wrong with any combination of five, but I would have preferred at least two in the downtown, I think we lose out on some multiplier effect by having a lot of businesses far away from other business centers.
—David M. Greenwald reporting