When the Golden State Greens cannabis dispensary won a coveted retail license in 2019, it did so based on the strength of its parking promises.
An initial round of scoring ranked the San Diego-based dispensary well below 900 points. But a team of Santa Barbara city employees rescored it, adding 50 points for an improved parking plan and 12 points for enhanced financial capitalization. Just like that, Golden State Greens jumped to 901 points and earned the third license.
“The initial application was pretty light in parking,” said Matt Fore, a senior assistant to the city administrator.
Golden State Greens initially had proposed valet parking, but Fore said such a plan for the site at 3516 State St. was “unworkable.”
After a public meeting and conversations between Golden State Greens and Santa Barbara, the city rescored the dispensary on the strength of signed parking agreements that the dispensary had with nearby businesses, including Madam Lu, the Sunshine Cafe, Denny’s and the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
The city decided to permit and license three cannabis retail dispensaries, and there was a lot of competition for the spots. Each applicant was ranked, and the top three were allowed to open: Farmacy, Coastal Dispensary and Golden State Greens.
Then, before Golden State Greens opened, the company sold its license and majority control of the Santa Barbara dispensary to Florida-based cannabis company Jushi, which is publicly traded on the Canadian stock market. In September 2020, Jushi opened the Santa Barbara dispensary under the name Beyond / Hello.
The issue, however, is that Santa Barbara’s process for allowing shared parking agreements for cannabis dispensaries is different than what it requires for businesses everywhere else in the city.
“It is a whole new process,” Fore said. “They are not one and the same.”
The city typically requires long-term, multiyear parking covenants that are recorded with the city.
Fore said a long-term entitlement or covenant was not required for Golden State Greens because the city wants to review the dispensaries and their procedures annually. Fore said the city accepted the letters from Golden State Greens and will review them at the end of September. The city will respond to complaints.
“I haven’t gotten a single complaint about parking since the initial permits were recorded,” Fore said. “We can’t check every single thing, but we listen to those complaints.”
The question about the scoring lingers years after the issuance of the permits because Golden State Greens flipped the license, drawing attention to the city’s dispensary selection and regulation process. A team of city scorers, ultimately approved by Fore, gave Golden State Greens an additional 50 points based on letters and conversations.
Fore said the original parking proposal was “a one-paragraph description and unworkable valet program.” The revised proposal “was a multifaceted parking plan.”
“They proposed that parking in order to improve their position in a competitive process,” he said.
The site has nine striped spaces, and it requires 15 based on the square footage of the building. According to parking agreements, however, customers are able to park at the Sunshine Cafe and Denny’s. Employees can park at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. Who is actually parking where is unclear, and it won’t be known until the city conducts its annual review.
The Sunshine Cafe has signs over its spaces that read, “No dispensary parking.”
Fore said he is confident that everything worked out correctly.
“For the process that council approved, we followed the process to the tee,” Fore said.
Ellen Melody, a spokeswoman for Jushi, said the company is not a bad actor.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Melody said.
She said if there was an issue with the assigning of the licenses that “they need to fix that at the top rather than slam Jushi as some corporate giant.”
“These guys aren’t bad actors,” she said. “They are servicing people.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.