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5 Powerful Stories Helping to Debunk Dispensary Myths

Leafly’s special report Debunking Dispensary Myths arrives just in time to inform civic debate for and against local cannabis retail licensing.

As the public discussion moves beyond superstition and into the realm of established facts, it’s important to also tell the stories behind the data. Leafly solicited voices of experience from the officials who’ve lived the change, and we were met with a warm response.

Former mayors, public health researchers, state regulators, and police, as well as current city council presidents, and current store operators all had stories to share. Some start at the birth of medical cannabis dispensary licensing in the Bay Area in 2004. Others finish in the advanced adult use markets of Colorado in 2019.

Leafly presents their perspectives below:

Permitting Pioneer: Be Proactive

Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council president and councilmember-at-large:

Years ago, I had the opportunity to help write and pass the first successful cannabis legalization measure in the US, which passed in Oakland in 2004, which called for taxation and regulation of cannabis for adults. We also worked to help launch the first system to issue permits for medical cannabis dispensaries. In 2009, I was the author of the first cannabis tax in the nation, which passed overwhelmingly on the ballot, obtaining 80% of the vote.

“The Oakland permit system proved that having responsible regulation is far more effective than prohibition …”

Rebecca Kaplan, city council president, Oakland, CA

For over a decade, Oakland has had a successful system to tax and regulate cannabis facilities, starting with medical cannabis, and now including adult use as well. I am proud of much of the results we have achieved in Oakland. We are clearly showing that the legal and regulated industry can pay taxes and abide by the rules. As the first city in the nation to issue permits for cannabis dispensaries, we have seen no significant issues with crime related to cannabis retailers.

We have also included an equity framework for our cannabis industry, to include and support participation from people who have historically been left out, and to restore the rights of those who were targets of the war on drugs, which disproportionately targeted African Americans. Oakland’s permit system proved that having responsible regulation is far more effective than prohibition. It also demonstrated that permitted and regulated cannabis facilities can be a positive contribution to the wider community.

Blunts and Moore, Oakland CA, 2019. (Leafly File Photo)
Blunts and Moore, Oakland CA, 2019. (Leafly File Photo)

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Social Scientist: Community First

Amanda Reiman, UC Berkeley Ph.D., social welfare; now head of community relations for Flow Kana:

In 2002, I moved from Chicago to Oakland. Overnight I went from a city steeped in prohibition to one where dispensaries were proliferating. Proposition 215 passed in 1996, but it was Senate Bill 420, which held that patients did not have to play an active role in cultivation, that allowed dispensaries to open. Cities like Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco were the first to license dispensaries. Many of those early spaces are still open.

“Early dispensaries were part community center, part summer camp, part retailer, and part health service.”

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., Flow Kana, head of community relations

As a medical cannabis patient myself, and as someone who was studying for my Ph.D. in social welfare, I was impressed with the community health framework that existed in those early dispensaries.

It should have been no surprise, given the origins of the medical cannabis movement in the LGBTQ community as a response to the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. Early dispensaries were part community center, part summer camp, part retailer, and part health service. Legal help was offered alongside pottery class, BINGO nights and peer counseling. Many had lounges and offered healthy produce and water. Patients could stay as long as they liked; many of them had no other place to go.

And yet the public painted dispensaries as dens of sin, where children would supposedly be lured. It’s not that different than the claims around the opium dens in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Dispensaries were presented as community dangers, rather than the jewels they really were. That’s why I did my doctoral dissertation on them and took my Berkeley students on field trips to see them. My hope is, as they become more boutique and less recreation center that the patients who rely on them are not forgotten.

Colorado State Regulator: Innovation Lives Here

Ron Kammerzell, former Colorado Department of Revenue senior director of enforcement, now president of Kammerzell Consulting Services:

One of the common misconceptions concerning people who operate licensed marijuana businesses is that they are nothing more than state-sponsored drug dealers. They have images of Cheech and Chong or the characters from Dude, Where’s My Car? in mind when they think of marijuana business owners.

As a former regulator with more than 25 years of regulatory experience in various industries, I can tell you that these misconceptions couldn’t be further from reality.

Marijuana business owners come from all walks of life: bankers, scientists, botanists, farmers, information technology professionals, engineers, startup company CEOs, bakers, and pharmaceutical professionals. Some of the most brilliant business people I’ve known are involved in this industry. They are creative thinkers and risk takers. They embody the core values of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Mayor of Sebastopol, CA: Safety Matters

Craig Litwin, former Sebastopol mayor, co-author of Sebastopol’s 2005 dispensary ordinance; CEO of 421 Group, a California cannabis consulting firm:

Dispensary operators are committed to safety for their patrons and neighbors, making their neighborhood better for residents and shoppers. They have robust security plans that are signed off by local law enforcement which include video surveillance and security staff to patrol the surrounding areas. These businesses also create a safer neighborhood which result in higher property values, often a desirable outcome.

(Photo by David Downs for Leafly)
Solful dispensary in Sebastopol, CA. (Photo by David Downs for Leafly)

There are downsides as well. More regulations and restricted commercial permitting equates to limited ‘green zone’ areas. These green zones can artificially increase the price of commercial real estate in highly competitive markets. In a competitive process, these buildings can often stay vacant for well over a year, reducing the vibrancy of commercial districts. It also causes undue burdens on applicants in an already overly taxed industry.

“Today’s entrepreneurs need to be engaged, part of the political landscape, and participants in the community fabric.”

Craig Litwin, former mayor, Sebastopol, CA

Dispensaries can still find a place in the market and grow their businesses if they remember to be good neighbors, budget properly, and strategize effectively. The old cannabis business person was used to keeping their head down and not causing any waves. The new cannabis marketplace is the exact opposite. Today’s entrepreneurs need to be engaged, part of the political landscape, and participants in the community fabric. The key to permitting, safety, and neighborly relations all comes down to community and political outreach. Let me emphasize: Do it early. Do it often. Don’t stop reaching out.

Cannabis Store Owner: Be Good Neighbors

Kevin Reed, owner, The Green Cross, San Francisco:

Neighborhood safety is of the utmost importance to The Green Cross. We have security personnel monitoring the block during all business hours, making sure members are being respectful of the surrounding area. Loitering, double parking, leaving debris, and smoking nearby are not permitted. We have mobile personnel and a security vehicle monitoring the neighborhood during peak hours and in response to neighbor calls, enforcing our safety protocol and ensuring members are following the rules set forth by The Green Cross and local law enforcement.

The Green Cross in San Francisco, CA on April 20, 2019. (Photo by David Downs for Leafly)
The Green Cross in San Francisco, CA on April 20, 2019. (Photo by David Downs for Leafly)

Here are some important projects that underscore our commitment to safety and security:

  • We acquired green zone parking in front of our storefront location to alleviate parking issues in the adjacent business corridor and neighborhood. This allows members to park for a maximum of ten minutes at a time.
  • We attend and participate in neighborhood meetings on a regular basis.
  • We installed lighting on the local businesses and residences to improve safety for neighbors.
  • Our surveillance camera system is at the disposal of the Ingleside Police Station and is monitored by security personnel during all hours of operation.
  • Well-mannered, professional, unarmed security personnel patrol the area on foot and by security vehicle to safeguard the neighborhood on a daily basis.

A primary goal here at The Green Cross is to improve the social and economic conditions of the neighborhood, while providing living wages to residents of the surrounding area. We take pride in providing employment opportunities to talented and professional individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds. The majority of our employees live locally here in San Francisco. Our Security Personnel all carry BSIS Security Guard Cards and are certified by the American Red Cross to perform First Aid/CPR/AED.

To minimize parking issues in the area, The Green Cross leases the parking lot at Giusto Automotive and Tire Services, located across the street at 4249 Mission Street. We encourage members to park here afterhours to avoid impacting neighborhood parking during the evenings and weekends.

The Green Cross adopted the 4200 block of Mission Street and has made many beautification efforts over the years to this area to create a vibrant and inviting business corridor. Our staff regularly cleans the street and plants new flowers each Spring. Since Mission Street is such a bustling thoroughfare, our security team is always available to help neighbors cross the street, and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to put out parking cones and caution signs on a daily basis.

“In its six years of operation, The Green Cross storefront has never been targeted with robbery or any other crime.”

Kevin Reed, owner, The Green Cross

If at any time neighbors feel unsafe or witness suspicious activity nearby, we encourage them to call our dedicated phone number for neighbors of The Green Cross. This phone line reaches our member services team directly, and they can assist neighbors with addressing any issues developing in the surrounding neighborhood. This line is reachable during all hours of operation, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. We make every effort to act on neighbor calls. It should also be noted that in our six years of operation, our storefront has never been targeted for robbery or any other crime.

Got your own voice of experience about local dispensary impacts? Comment below.

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