Half Moon Bay voters looking to better understand life with cannabis retail need search no further than Pacifica. 

The Coastside’s northern neighbor had five medical dispensaries operating within city limits illegally at one point before the city had a mechanism in place to legalize them. That changed with the November 2017 election. 

Last fall, 79 percent of Pacifica voters supported an excise tax that would provide the city with 6 percent of cannabis retail income within the first two years of operation. It was estimated to bring in $420,000 in its first full year, according to the city of Half Moon Bay’s white paper on the topic. Pacifica could allow up to six retail operations. 

For comparison, if the advisory measure seeking voter opinion on a potential retail ordinance passes here, and eventually gets made into law, Half Moon Bay could permit up to two cannabis retailers. At the proposed 6 percent tax, Half Moon Bay could harvest an annual income of $240,000 — according to a financial report produced by HdL Companies for Half Moon Bay. 

Pacifica hasn’t seen any money from cannabis retail yet, however. Two businesses are currently in the process of applying for permits and another couple more are expected to apply soon. 

In order to determine who could be heard by the Pacifica Planning Commission first, the city held a lottery. 

“We actually used a bingo machine and had our associate planner figure out how to use it,” said Pacifica Mayor John Keener. “(There was) one ball for each application. The order they pulled them out was the order the city would consider the application.” 

The Phog Center Dispensary — formally known as Emerald Phog — was one of the two applicants drawn first. It was approved by the Pacifica Planning Commission on Sept. 17, but the approval was appealed by another cannabis retail applicant and that appeal is to be heard by the Pacifica City Council on Oct. 22, said the Phog Center Dispensary Chief Executive Officer Jesus Sahagun. 

Sahagun noted that his dispensary has promised to sell to medical cannabis customers only in its first year of operation but may explore recreational after that. 

“We want to take care of our medicinal patients first,” Sahagun said. 

As the first in San Mateo County city to legalize retail sales of recreational, adult-use cannabis, Pacifica is acting as a trailblazer of sorts. 

The city of Carpinteria has permitted cannabis cultivation in its greenhouses but currently has a moratorium on all cannabis-related businesses until May 2019 while it determines how it wants to regulate the industry. 

While testing and manufacturing will likely be considered, the city has been shying away from a potential retail ordinance after neighboring cities seemed to have issues with medical dispensaries, particularly in Santa Barbara. 

“Other cities were having unintended consequences and criminal activities around retail in our region,” said Carpinteria City Manager David Durflinger. 

Closer to home, West Manor Wellness Center, a medical cannabis dispensary in Pacifica was burglarized earlier this year and more than $10,000 worth of product was taken, according to Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle.

Now that cannabis operations will be legal, security is expected to increase. Retail outlets will be inspected by the police department and security cameras will be required, Keener said. 

For some in Half Moon Bay, no amount of security will make them feel safe. 

“Having dispensaries normalizes smoking,” said Half Moon Bay resident and vocal cannabis opponent Joaquin Jimenez. Jimenez, and others, worry about the influence cannabis dispensaries will have on area youth. Jimenez added that he is concerned about the increased exposure from potential customers who want to come to Half Moon Bay to buy cannabis and smoke it on the beach — potentially affecting families with young children who are sharing the same space. At a recent Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, Edith Cabuslay of the San Mateo County Health System pointed to the latest California Healthy Kids survey data that showed eleventh-graders in the Half Moon Bay area already had the highest marijuana use rates compared to other 11th-graders elsewhere in the county. 

While Cabuslay said she wasn’t taking a position on the city’s nursery start ordinance, she noted that the perception of harm can directly affect use. 

“When young people feel that there is no harm with a substance, their use of the substance goes up,” she said at that June 5 meeting. 

Coastside Cannabis Coalition Coordinator Lauren Silberman recognizes concerns around exposure to children, but says she has faith in the city’s ability to keep cannabis under control. 

“I trust our community to regulate adult-use substance around kids,” she said. 

Silberman worked for a dispensary near Ashland, Ore., shortly after the recreational use of the drug was made legal there. Silberman says that the shops were intentionally kept off of Main Street and didn’t appear to influence tourist activity. 

Silberman adds that there is a common misconception that there are a lot of delivery options for medical cannabis patients on the Coastside, but she doesn’t think that’s the case. 

Pacifica’s mayor noted that he wished Half Moon Bay the best of luck in sorting through cannabis regulations. 

“We feel like it’s really sort of more of an adventure than we thought we were getting into,” Kenner said. “No one else in San Mateo County has approved retail cannabis. We feel like we’re out here on our own (and we’ll) see how it goes.”

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