Backlash Brews Over Pot Dispensary

Milpas Neighbors Worry About Increases in Crime and Traffic

Pete Dal Bello at the proposed medical marijuana dispensary.
Paul Wellman

Serious opposition has emerged against a new medical marijuana dispensary approved for lower Milpas Street, with neighboring residents and merchants fretting over the traffic and crime they say will spike when the location opens in coming months. “The Eastside has been a dumping ground for decades,” complained Pete Dal Bello, whose family owns a home and two businesses near the 118 North Milpas Street storefront. “The city is only looking at the dispensary as tax revenue, not at the effect it will have on the neighborhood.” Three dispensaries are permitted within the city; one other was approved for Ontare Plaza in San Roque, which is also receiving significant pushback.

Dal Bello filed an appeal this week with the city’s Planning Commission, which will hear the matter March 17. At least 18 other neighbors have echoed similar concerns, as well as Sharon Byrne, director of the Milpas Community Association. Byrne stated during the January 20 approval hearing that the location, previously a jewelry store, was robbed in 2011 and the site of a suspected arson fire in 2013. Lower Eastside resident Rebecca Gutierrez said while she doesn’t doubt the efficacy and need of medical marijuana, the storefront is “just a bad spot,” noting that children pass the building on their way to and from Franklin School three blocks away.

In receiving the green light for his dispensary, Ryan Howe ​— ​former president of the Los Angeles–based production company Thunder Bay Pictures ​— ​explained to city officials he would install a vault, security system, lighting, fencing, and cameras to alleviate safety concerns. He would also hire two guards and create a neighborhood watch program. He called the dispensary, to be named Canopy, a “holistic healing and wellness center that will also happen to sell cannabis.”

The place will look and feel much different from a traditional dispensary, Howe went on, explaining his family has a background in running nonprofits, one a stem-cell-research organization, the other a ministry that serves refugees and orphans. Nearby street parking is adequate and in relatively low demand, Howe said, and would be able to accommodate the 5-14 patients per hour he expects to serve between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. He also told officials his dispensary would have a zero-tolerance policy for patients who misbehave and is situated in an area without much existing crime.

Dal Bello said he’s not against medical cannabis in principle. But he insisted the dispensary would be more appropriate near Cottage Hospital and other health-care services along West Pueblo Street. He also said City Hall needs to stop and take a deep breath before handing out more dispensary approvals, given California’s squishy legal terrain around medical marijuana.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.