By Jeff Clemetson | Contributing Editor
Medical dispensary sets May 21 grand opening
America’s attitude toward marijuana has changed considerably since Ray Taylor first smoked a joint in 1969.
“It’s amazing to me that I went from worried about getting life in prison with a buddy from Vietnam to talking with the city attorney about how to shut down illegal shops to protect my legal one,” he said.
Taylor opened the doors to his legal medical marijuana dispensary called The Healing Center in March, and will host a grand opening May 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of the building that houses his 400-square-foot shop, located at 3703 Camino del Rio South, Suite 215A.
“We just want to throw a little party for everybody and we’re the only business in the building that operates on Saturday so we won’t be interfering the other businesses,” he said, adding that there will be a DJ and free tacos, beverages and samples from vendors, including edible marijuana products.
“Everybody will have to go through the dispensary to get the free samples; you just can’t hand them out in the parking lot,” he said.
In an earlier article in Mission Valley News, Taylor said he aimed to open The Healing Center in November. However, getting the shop up to the strict codes required for marijuana dispensaries delayed the opening longer than expected.
“I don’t think the city necessarily went, ‘We’re going to pick on medical marijuana places.’ It’s just that all their rules and regulations that apply to what we’re doing are very costly and very time consuming.”
Those regulations included having to redo the entire parking lot at the building to create two more handicapped parking spaces to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The entire shop also had to be bullet resistant — the glass alone cost $40,000, Taylor said.
Lighting had to be upgraded and alarms systems installed. A security firm was hired to comply with a rule that the shop must have two guards on duty during operating hours and one when the shop is closed — costing $700 per day.
“We’re determined to do everything by the book, and that’s expensive,” he said.
Although the added costs for security have prohibited The Healing Center from being profitable just yet, Taylor said business is picking up.
“We’ve tripled in sales since we opened, which is nice and we’re helping a lot of people, which is kind of cool.”
Taylor said so far his clientele has mostly been older people — especially mature women. He credits that to the fact that his shop is in a nice neighborhood and is extremely secure. His shop is also located in a medical building where the doctors specialize in pain management, so that also has helped bring in customers.
“We pride ourselves on educating people when they come in because we get a lot of people who are coming to a dispensary for the first time,” he said. “Maybe because we’re in Mission Valley and it’s a more central area. And we do get an older demographic than a lot of other places.”
Taylor said that demographic might change in the future as San Diego starts cracking down more and more on illegal and unlicensed dispensaries throughout the city, and the younger crowd that typically visits them looks for more legal alternatives.
Illegal shops affect his business, he said, and so far the efforts to stop them have been like a game of “whack-a-mole” where one gets shuts down and it is just opened in another location.
However, the city is now going to go after illegal shops both civilly and criminally and is also going after building owners who rent to unlicensed shops.
“The reason I think the city is going down this path is not only people like us are complaining, and neighbors are complaining, now there are facilities that are safe and permitted and patients don’t have to go to these outlaw shops where you have no idea what they’re selling,” Taylor said.
“We put in three-quarters of a million dollars getting the building up to code. Put in a new parking lot, upgraded the building to be ADA compliant. My argument to the city attorney is why should we spend all this money, go through a two-year process when a mile up the street a guy just walks in a door and opens up a similar business?”
Competition from illegal shops isn’t the only impediment Taylor sees in operating a legal marijuana business. Industries that are threatened by marijuana’s potential as a legal medical or recreational drug have also shaped attitudes and laws against it.
“The tobacco companies don’t want it to be legal, the pharmaceutical companies don’t want it to be legal, the alcohol companies don’t want it to be legal because it is a great alternative to those kinds of drugs,” he said, adding that he is admittedly anti-pharmaceutical and anti-alcohol because his mother was an alcoholic. “She was a diabetic and alcohol contains a lot of sugar and she eventually lost both her legs.”
Taylor’s attitude about medical marijuana and the reason for him opening the The Healing Center was shaped by his experience with a family member who suffers from epilepsy and couldn’t hold a job due to her stuttering and shakes.
“She uses marijuana and it’s changed her life completely,” he said.
It was during a trip to a “seedy” location in Ocean Beach to get her medical marijuana that he promised her that if it ever became possible to open a legal marijuana business that he’d do it.
Fulfilling that promise, Taylor and his brother-in-law and partner put their life savings into opening the shop.
“Once you really get into this business,” he said, “you see it everyday, people who come in with chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy and this really helps them.”
—Write to Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.