By Ken Williams | Editor
Mission Valley’s first medical marijuana co-op has finally been approved by the city, and its owner is planning to open for business before year’s end.
Raymond “Ray” J. Taylor said he expects The Healing Center to have a grand opening on Nov. 1, but is holding out hope for an earlier debut. His brother-in-law, James V. Dickinson, is also involved in the operation as an investor.
When Taylor decided in February 2014 that he wanted to get into the medical marijuana business to “help people” like his relative who suffers chronic pain, he said the amount of red tape he encountered was “overwhelming.”
“I had hoped to open on 4/20” in 2015, Taylor said, laughing, alluding to the universal code word for cannibis. But the wheels don’t move that fast in city government.
Taylor’s proposal was first brought before the Mission Valley Planning Group, which advises city planners on local matters. Then at the April 1, 2015 meeting, the planning group voted 17-3 to recommend a five-year conditional use and site development permit for the project. The proposal then bounced up to the city’s Planning Commission, which also approved the project after conducting a public hearing on Aug. 13.
“Now I know what it’s like to give birth,” Taylor quipped.
Taylor is known for producing classic car shows at Qualcomm Stadium, which is directly across Interstate 8 from the location of his Healing Center. The co-op will be located in Suite 215A in a 26,000-square-foot, two-story medical office building at 3703 Camino del Rio South. “I looked at 300 locations before I found this place,” he said.
Taylor talked to the landlord, Dr. David J. Smith, who operates Pacific Surgical Institute of Pain Management. He said the doctor didn’t bat an eyelash when he was told him about his plans to open a medical marijuana consumer cooperative.
“He’s in pain management, so am I,” Taylor said. “I’ve got to take care of people who need me.”
Taylor traces his motivation to open a medical marijuana co-op to a close relative who sought his help.
“A family member who has epilepsy wanted a ride to get her medicine,” he recalled. “Of course I said yes. But she directed me to this bad part of town, and the place looked like a dump! I didn’t want my relative to have to go through this ever again.”
He was also inspired by a television infomercial that touted the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil. “I saw sick little kids who were helped by the oil,” Taylor said. “I saw there was a way to help a lot of people. It has become something of a quest for me. It makes me feel good when I wake up every morning.”
Taylor, with his jovial personality and his snow-white hair and mustache, defies most stereotypes associated with his new profession.
“I’m an old guy,” he said. “I’m 69 years old. I was in a band in the 1960s, so you can imagine that I’ve seen it all.”
He touts marijuana as “something that God gave you in a plant, and it makes you laugh, makes you hungry and make you feel good.” He then points to pharmaceutical drugs that are advertised on television with dire warnings. “Do you want to take a drug that might cause you psychological harm or suicidal thoughts? Do you really want anal leakage? At my age, I sure don’t!”
To reassure any critics who might be out there, Taylor vows that he will be building the Rolls-Royce of medical marijuana co-ops. He will be required by the city to upgrade the rental suite, sidewalk and parking lot to meet the standards of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). That means providing access for customers who use wheelchairs.
The 400-square-foot suite will contain an office, a waiting room and a display area for products and services. He said he has hired an interior designer who specializes in creating “inviting décor” for dispensaries, or “a place to make people comfy.”
“This will not look like a pot shop,” Taylor said. “This will be professionally done, and it’s in a nice part of town.”
The co-op will require a no-fee membership that will be granted after applicants get a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana treatment. He said the city requires him to have two security guards on duty during operating hours. “This will be one of the safest places in San Diego,” Taylor said.
He expects to sell as many edibles as smoking products. “In Colorado [which has legalized medical marijuana products] about 40 percent of sales are edibles,” he said. “I expect we will see the same response here, because most people don’t want to smoke.”
Taylor doesn’t expect he will see any stoners at the Healing Center. “My target audience is middle age people to senior citizens,” he said.
Customers, Taylor said, will likely suffer from glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spinal injuries. People who are chronically or terminally ill would also benefit, he said.
Taylor likens the growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the gay marriage debate: People are evolving on the issue. “Since the Colorado vote, the sky hasn’t fallen,” he said. “It seems like a switch has clicked in people’s heads.”
—Ken Williams is editor of Mission Valley News and San Diego Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952.