.Dispensary Near School Approved by Planning Commission

A new cannabis dispensary is set to take over the site of the former Emily’s Bakery after the Santa Cruz Planning Commission approved the project on March 7. The vote was 5-2 in favor with commissioners Michael Polhamus and John McKelvey voting “no.” 

Many Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) members came out to support Valerie Corral who spoke in favor of The Hook Outlet, the dispensary that will take-over supplying WAMM members. The Hook hopes to provide medical marijuana to 200 WAMM members at this location, according to co-founder of The Hook, Bryce Berryessa.

The Santa Cruz City School District  voiced its opposition to the dispensary with a case that boiled down to the site’s proximity to Santa Cruz High. Superintendent Kristin Munro, Santa Cruz High Principal Michelle Poirier and Mission Hill Principal Derek Kendall spoke out against the permit. They requested that the Commission move the zoning-requirement from 600 feet to 2000 feet away from schools.

The dispensary is only 850 feet away from Santa Cruz High. Zoning code currently requires a buffer of 600 feet.

Poirier said that marijuana had become a huge issue at the school. Drug violations were up 50% in 2022-23 and students told her that it is easy to get a scannable fake-ID.

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“A student can very quickly conduct a business negotiation, quickly obtain [weed], and make it back to campus very quickly without it needing to become an alarm because they are late to their third period class,” said Poirier.

The dispensary had offered to only sell to 19-year-olds and up, but Poirier said that fake-IDs make that regulation obsolete. Medical dispensaries can sell to people aged 18 and up, while others are restricted to 21 and over.

Many parents and staff of Santa Cruz City Schools said having a dispensary on such a prominent corner would amount to “exposure marketing.”

But the school’s arguments failed to persuade the Commission.

‘I am also unconvinced by arguments against this site’

–Julie Conway

“I am also unconvinced by arguments against this site. [The argument being] ‘exposure normalizes.’ I think it is too late for that,” said Chair Julie Conway. “There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about kids with cannabis but nothing I’ve heard leads me to believe that this location will exacerbate or lead to more kids getting their hands on cannabis.”

Pro-dispensary advocates say that there is a huge black market of cannabis. Members of the weed-consuming community joked that children could never afford dispensary prices.

Per a 2017 Santa Cruz City ordinance, there are only five dispensaries allowed in Santa Cruz City. Each dispensary cannot be within 600 feet of schools or parks, leaving only a few areas where they can legally open, according to city staff. 

There are dispensaries in the Harvey West area, on Fair Street, and along Ocean Street, making a few blocks along Mission Street one of the few remaining areas zoned for dispensaries not already occupied by a cannabis-store, according to Berryessa.

Commissioner Polhamus, who teaches at Santa Cruz High, said he was concerned about the potency of the weed and the location of the store because of its effects on learning. He proposed an amendment to the approval that would ban cannabis products with over 40% THC at the dispensary. 

It was not added to the approval.

Instead the Commissioners agreed that the city has a well-thought-out zoning ordinance and to change it now would be unfair to the applicant.

“I see how much moving around they [the students] do on their electric bikes. The notion that to go to 1200 feet would change anything is crazy. They can go anywhere they want to go very fast. And there are lots of them,” said Commissioner Matthew Thompson.

Berryessa, who lives in the neighborhood, said that he is a parent of kids at Mission Hill Middle School and he understands parent’s concerns. 

“I do not fault you for being here because we are parents doing what we can, to do the best for our kids,” said Berryessa.

Berryessa said that he expects there to be an appeal to the Santa Cruz City Council.

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