Sebastopol considers second medicinal pot dispensary

Two men proposing to open a new medical marijuana dispensary in Sebastopol will ask city planning commissioners on Tuesday to waive a provision in city law that currently allows only one such facility in the city so they can pursue their plan.

Sebastopol residents Jonathan Melrod and Miguel Gavilan Molina, operating at Traditional Living Inc., are seeking permission to open their new wellness center in what until recently was a martial arts studio tucked into the corner of the Southpoint Shopping Center, south of downtown.

But the plan would require the city to deviate from an ordinance amended in 2011 so that it now prohibits more than one dispensary to operate inside city limits.

That privilege currently belongs to Peace in Medicine, which opened in 2007 at the eastern gateway to town on Sebastopol Avenue/Highway 12 and later opened a second site in Santa Rosa, on Dutton Avenue.

But Sebastopol City Planning Director Kenyon Webster and other staff have recommended planning commissioners allow for a second dispensary, in part because Peace in Medicine has been so problem-free.

Though the city initially envisioned having two dispensaries in town when it passed a medicinal marijuana ordinance in 2007, concerns about security and the absence of any proposals for a second one prompted the city council to amend the ordinance in 2011, allowing just one.

But “both reasons are no longer valid in my opinion,” City Manager/Attorney Larry McLaughlin said via email, “(W)e now have other applicants, and our one dispensary has raised no security concerns in its operation.”

Attorney Erin Carlstrom, who prepared the Traditional Living’s planning application, noted additionally that when Sebastopol reduced its allowance to a single dispensary in the city, it was predicated in part on findings that there already were ?12 dispensaries operating across western Sonoma County.

There are now only nine in the entirety of Sonoma County, noted Carlstrom, who also is a Santa Rosa city councilwoman.

Traditional Living envisions a full-service medical cannabis dispensary, education and support center that includes locally sourced marijuana products, books, vaporizers and, even, apparel, with support groups and programming offered off-site.

It has projected a client base of about 750 people and plans to provide for patients’ monthly needs, discouraging daily or weekly visits.

Side benefits include generation of an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 in tax revenue per year, and 10 to 15 living-wage jobs, according to the city planning report.

Melrod, a social justice attorney, said via email that he and Molina, an activist and community radio producer, had both experienced life-threatening cancer diagnoses in their past for which they turned, in part, to non-traditional medicines. About 11/2 years ago, the pair joined forces to try to find a location for a health and wellness center that would help others fight disease and improve health as well.

They found it in the tenant space at 785 Gravenstein Highway South.

“This is a miracle I wish to share with the vast community of people who suffer from illnesses that can benefit from the use of cannabis and other alternative treatments,” Melrod said.

The proposal comes at a time when Californians are anticipating voter approval of Proposition 64, which would legalize adult use of marijuana and lift the veil from a lucrative economic sector that, so far, operates only in the shadows.

The timing has led to some speculation that the backers of Traditional Living are, in part, hoping to position themselves to take advantage of a burgeoning market.

But Eli Melrod, who would operate as product manager for Traditional Living, said the focus was on mind/body health and wellness, not other cannabis uses.

Jim Costello, who owns the Southpoint Shopping Center, said he has told his would-be tenants that they could only have the space for a marijuana dispensary if California voters approve Proposition 64 on Nov. 8, a guarantee he would be free of any public relations issues.

Costello said that, if the project goes forward, he will be watching keenly to ensure there are no problems with clientele or nuisance behavior, about which the city ordinance contains detailed regulations in any case.

“I also have a business I have to operate,” Costello said.

“I don’t want to have a taint on anything. But if the state says we’re good for it, then we’re good. If the state says no, I don’t like it, on Nov. 8, I don’t either.”

The Planning Commission meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Sebastopol Youth Annex, 425 Morris St.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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