MARTINEZ — In a raucous meeting that saw everything from Cheech and Chong jokes to concerns about kids having easy access to pot, the city’s Planning Commission took the first step toward establishing a medical cannabis dispensary here.
The planning commission voted unanimously in favor of two measures that grant a conditional use permit at for Firefly Health Corporation, a marijuana dispensary, to operate at 4808 Sunrise Drive. The move still requires council approval.
The most vocal opponent of the commission’s decision was Maurice Jones-Drew, a former NFL running back who co-owns Power Endurance. Jones-Drew said he set up the gym to give back to the East Bay, and that he signed a five-year lease after he was assured the dispensary would not happen.
Power Endurance owners said more than 90 percent of their clients are underage, but city officials say they produced documents that definitively show around 68 percent of the people who go there are youths. The discrepancy makes a big difference, as a city ordinance forbids cannabis dispensaries to be within 600 feet of youth centers.
At its July 30 meeting, the commission seemed to reject the description of Power Endurance as a gym that “primarily” serves kids.
“I’ve been to Power Endurance, you guys have an amazing facility. … You don’t market yourselves as a youth center,” commissioner Sean Trambley said. He later added, “It’s a convenient definition.”
Jones-Drew said kids, including local high school sports teams, frequent the area year-round.
“This is a youth center,” Jones-Drew said, emphasizing the word “is.” He later added, “I don’t think anyone wants their kids around (marijuana), regardless of how we feel as adults about it.”
The dispensary’s owners took issue with Jones-Drew’s characterization of the gym and rebutted concerns that the dispensary would give kids easy access to marijuana.
“We believe we can co-exist there. We understand that there’s children there,” said Farid Harrison, one of the owners of Firefly who owns other dispensaries around the country. He said the gym had originally been billed as an athletic center but “conveniently” pivoted to a youth center in May, to oppose the dispensary.
“It doesn’t operate like a youth center, it doesn’t feel like a youth center. … It’s a gym,” Harrison said.
The commission’s vote goes against staff’s recommendation to reject the proposal, which cited the gym’s 90 percent statistic.
Before the matter came to a vote, dozens of members of the public spoke. Some voiced concerns about security and bringing a marijuana business to town, others said it was long overdue and that the dispensary was designed for people with medical needs, not recreational use.
Police Chief Manjit Sappal said there was a solid security plan in place for the proposed dispensary. He said he could not predict who the dispensary would attract, but did not get in the commission’s way.
“I don’t stand here today with any major reservation in terms of ‘We’re going down the wrong path, this is completely unacceptable, and we’re not going to be able to handle it,’ ” Sappal said. “It’s here, it’s coming, we’re going to have to deal with it one way or the other.”
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