By Sara Butler | Editor
Three local pot shops receive recreational marijuana licenses
As of Jan. 1, 2018, folks have started lining up at local dispensaries to get their hands on recreational cannabis, which is now legal for adult use in the state.
Currently, less than a dozen shops are now operating with recreational marijuana state licenses. Three of these coveted spots have been snagged by Mission Valley locations: The Healing Center San Diego, Apothekare and Urbn Leaf, the latter located in the nearby Linda Vista/Morena area.
The Healing Center San Diego (THCSD) is the brainchild of Ray Taylor. After encouragement from his son – who is a cannabis grower – Taylor agreed to take his retirement money and open up a dispensary. He teamed up with his wife’s brother, Jim Dickinson, to open up a safe and legitimate establishment in the local market.
“When my [business] partner Jim and I decided to do this, we wanted not to open a pot shop, but open an actual professional dispensary where I would feel comfortable having my family come,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he always envisioned opening the shop in Mission Valley. He was already familiar with the area because he holds car shows at the nearby SDCCU Stadium. He is the owner of the San Diego Auto Swap’s “San Diego Cool Car Truck Cycle Expo.”
However, due to the upcoming stadium development, 2018 is his last year running the event. Though he will miss the car shows, the change does open up his schedule to run the shop.
Since opening THCSD, his business venture has taken on a new meaning of helping others. He noted that interacting with alcoholics, sick kids and even a friend with severe prostate cancer has shifted his mindset.
“When I first got in the business, it was sort of money-motivated,” Taylor said. “But to be honest with you, after working in the business for a year, the best part of this business are the hugs you get from people that you save.”
Now with recreational marijuana on the table, he’s excited for the community at large to receive to receive what he describes as mental and physical benefits of cannabis. He intends to keep the shop professional with an emphasis in education, as some first-timers don’t know much about the substance.
His motto? “Take care of your people,” he said with a smile.
Taylor shared that most of his customers are clustered around the Mission Valley region and within a 5-mile radius, such as nearby Uptown communities.
The community demand has led other dispensaries to open nearby, such as their new neighbor Apothekare. Though he was initially worried about the competition, the day one of the stores opened up, THCSD’s business actually picked up.
“Camino del Rio South may end up being like Adams Avenue … if you want antiques you go to Adams Avenue, if you want weed you go to Camino del Rio South,” Taylor laughed.
Down the street from THCSD is Apothekare. The company, known for their Kearny Mesa location, recently opened up a Mission Valley storefront this year. According to Apothekare’s website, they are San Diego’s largest cannabis shop.
Mission Valley News reached out to Apothekare numerous times prior to publication deadline, but the dispensary did not return our phone calls or interview requests.
Just west of these two Camino de Rio South dispensaries is Urbn Leaf, located at 1028 Buenos Ave. The Linda Vista/Morena dispensary was the second to be licensed in San Diego and the eighth in the state.
Urbn Leaf’s founder Will Senn has been in the cannabis industry for his whole life. He is very politically active in the space and one of the United Medical Marijuana Coalition (UMMC) co-founders. He has owned dispensaries in San Diego for about a decade, currently running the two Urbn Leaf locations with a third spot in the works.
Despite his extensive experience, Senn had a hard time finding a spot for the first Urbn Leaf before landing its current address.
“We looked for locations and it’s so tough to find a landlord who is willing to rent to you, because a while ago a lot of landlords were getting threatening letters from the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] … and it was pretty bad. Everyone was being sued by the city attorney.
“I was lucky enough to find a willing landlord,” he said. “They’re great. We got a great relationship; we try to be the best neighbors possible.”
Though the shop has been operating with a medical marijuana license since April 2017, the influx of people in January brought on some unanticipated challenges – but these have not deterred customers.
“I thought people would be a little turned off by the lines, [but] everybody’s been pretty stoked,” he said. “They’re pretty happy about it, right? They’re meeting their neighbors in line and they’re talking and they’re excited about cannabis being legal. It’s pretty refreshing.”
Urbn Leaf has a 70-person staff, with an average 20-25 people working per shift. According to Senn, the dedicated staff has been working around the clock, pulling all-nighters multiple days in a row. Yet they rarely show any exhaustion with their smiles and friendly attitude toward customers.
Extra security has also been hired to address the parking concerns and to ensure customers do not park in the lots of nearby businesses. So far, there have been no complaints, incidents or protests from their neighbors or the Linda Vista/Morena community.
“[Our dispensary] actually makes [the community] safer,” Senn said. “Before we moved in here, this street had a lot of transient people living on the street here. You don’t see that anymore, because we’re here. Because we have guards here, cameras everywhere, lights at night. We really tried our best to clean up the area the best we can.”
In addition to making the Mission Valley area safer, Senn notes that the biggest benefit of recreational marijuana legalization will be the extra money available for the greater San Diego region. He believes the tax revenue may go toward public safety and services, such as the police force, fire department, and libraries.
Though the federal government is casting some political uncertainty over the future of medicinal and adult-use cannabis in California, recreational weed is still legal in the city and state. Considering the high percentage of the initial licenses granted to shops in Mission Valley, more recreational marijuana shops may spring up in the region this year.
While these first two weeks of legalization have seen customers walking away with sealed goodies and wide smiles, we may hear a different community response at upcoming City Council meetings.
— Sara Butler is the editor of Mission Valley News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.