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Canndescent CEO Adrian Sedlin at Santa Barbara City's commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

Paul Wellman

Canndescent CEO Adrian Sedlin at Santa Barbara City's commercial cannabis business application public meeting.


Santa Barbara Pot Shops Circling State Street

City Council Is Picking Winners and Losers in Cannabis Trade


If you thought pot made you paranoid, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for the garrison state, replete with 24/7 private security details, video-camera sentries, motion detectors, vibration sensors, bulletproof windows, armored delivery vehicles, and scads of well-paid employees each wearing panic buttons.

That’s right, panic buttons.

All of the above was discussed in gory detail at last Friday’s public dog-’n’-pony show as six potential cannabis-dispensary operators competed for the three retail spaces the Santa Barbara City Council will allow within city limits. Of those six, three are proposed for State Street. Would-be operators sought to exceed any expectations concerning security. For those intent on chasing the homeless out of downtown, it quickly became clear that pot shops were an answer to their prayers. To be fair, one operator ​— ​Ryan Kunkel out of Seattle ​— ​took a less militaristic approach. Kunkel and his crew are hoping to open a Have a Heart dispensary on the 1000 block of State Street, which they described as “modern intuitive meets Spanish colonial.” Being from Seattle, they were big into algorithms, which presumably they would use to identify those at risk of becoming homeless and train them in the lucrative art of trimming weed. At least that was the plan.

Welcome to the brave new world.

By Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara City commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

Friday’s room was populated by steely guys with bulging biceps who wore too-tight suits and sported the sort of facial hair one expects on Israeli commandos. They sought to soften the vibe by highlighting the number of children they’d sired. One had four, another five. Just as I started worrying about testosterone poisoning, the Seattle group took the stage, fronted by a Santa Barbara woman who was seven months pregnant. It was very reassuring. Or something.

By Paul Wellman

Mark Gustafson at Santa Barbara City’s commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

Most of the applicants are big-time operators from other towns and other states: places like Colorado, Seattle, Arizona, and San Diego. They had local fronts. The Colorado outfit with designs on Chapala Street brought in a couple of Santa Barbara real estate dudes, not to mention singer Kenny Loggins, Santa Barbara’s one-man philanthropic band.

[Clarification: Malante Hayworth called to say the Colorado partner owned only 10 percent of their start-up, and 85 percent was owned by Santa Barbarans.]

The Arizona outfit put Clay Holdren, owner of Holdren’s steakhouse on lower State Street, on their board and hired wild-haired S.B. architect Henry Lenny. He answered questions about environmental concerns by riffing movingly about growing up dirt poor on a dirt floor in Mexico without water or electricity.

Huh?

By Paul Wellman

Kenny Loggins at Santa Barbara City’s commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

One of the great ironies of legalization is the vast increase in law enforcement action it will spawn. A sizable chunk of the $5 million-$25 million that recreational cannabis taxes are expected to generate for Santa Barbara County will be spent on eradication and enforcement actions. The new breed of legal operators ​— ​such as Adrian Sedlin, whose company Canndescent is headquartered here but operates out of Desert Hot Springs ​— ​is demanding a crackdown on the pot black market, which, counterintuitively, has actually grown since cannabis was legalized. Turns out the taxes are sky-high and the cost of compliance too prohibitive for most dealers to go straight. A whole lot of enforcement could be coming our way.

Sedlin happened to be the first applicant out the gate. He won few friends fast and quickly lost even those. If you read the trade journals, Sedlin is routinely hailed as a visionary genius. No doubt that’s true. What I saw was a shameless mansplainer in full flower. After some citizens expressed concern that kids might get the wrong idea if cannabis were allowed on State Street, Sedlin all but jumped down their throats. “Get your facts right. The world is not flat,” he lectured. “The world is changing. It’s actually round. And cannabis is part of it.” This diatribe inflamed one spectacularly muscled man whose family formerly owned a blow-dry bar on State Street. He blistered Sedlin for insulting him and everyone in the room. He then blistered the idea of pot shops anywhere on State Street. The fact that Mr. Muscles had been circulating a petition to keep State Street cannabis-free gave rise to speculation from the Peanut Gallery, where I sat, that he might actually be a shill for the one and only shop proposed for Chapala Street.

Even with a scorecard, it was hard to keep up.

Sedlin, however, could flex his semi-local authority; he has lived here since 2001. He is hot to have a flagship in Santa Barbara the same way Starbucks has one in Seattle and Nike has one in Portland. It would be, he said, a mix of Apple meets Louis Vuitton.

That’s right, he said Louis Vuitton.

By Paul Wellman

Graham Farrar (center) at Santa Barbara City’s commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

Stealing the show, however, was Graham Farrar, who actually grew up in Goleta before dropping out of school, working for a start-up called Sonos, and then starting up companies of his own. Now he’s doubling down on cannabis. Farrar, who holds 10 licenses with the state and is growing the hell out of his Carpinteria greenhouses, hopes to open a shop ​— ​Apple meets cannabis, he said ​— ​at the corner of De la Vina and Mission streets. Making the case for Farrar was City College Foundation’s Geoff Green, Santa Barbara’s equivalent of Walter Cronkite. Green, the gentlest philanthropic arm-twister in town, lauded Farrar for the generosity he is soon to display. Also singing Farrar’s praise was former police lieutenant John Thayer, a city cop for 31 years and head of security at the Santa Barbara Bowl for the last 20. Throw in John Bennett, owner of Brophy Brothers, and Farrar had the blessing of everyone this side of Saint Junípero Serra.

By Paul Wellman

Geoff Green at Santa Barbara City’s commercial cannabis business application public meeting.

A committee of five unnamed city administrators will now visit the sites of all six proposed operations to cull the herd in half. A final decision is expected at the month’s end.

It’s all interesting. It’s necessary. It makes tons of sense. But I stopped smoking pot because it made me paranoid. What do I have to stop now?

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