MARTINEZ — The city has approved a temporary permit to a cannabis dispensary that intends to set up shop down the street from Alhambra High School, much to the chagrin of dozens of city residents who vocally opposed the action.
At a Wednesday meeting, the Martinez City Council voted 3-0 in favor of allowing a conditional use permit for a dispensary called Embarc, which will be run by George Miller IV, the son of the longtime Bay Area congressman of the same name. The dispensary will be set up at 3501 Alhambra Avenue in Martinez, across the street from Safeway and within two blocks of Alhambra High.
Vice Mayor Mark Ross, as well as Councilwomen Lara DeLaney and Debbie McKillop, voted in favor of the measure. Mayor Rob Schroder recused himself from the vote due to a prior financial relationship with the applicant, and Councilwoman Noralea Gipner abstained from the vote, saying she supported Embarc but not the location.
The measure was opposed by members of the Martinez Unified School District, including its superintendent. Numerous city residents also spoke out in opposition, many of them saying they had no problem with a cannabis dispensary in town but felt this location was too close to the high school.
“I am begging you, you have the courage and character to make a decision that requires a different location,” MUSD superintendent CJ Cammack told the council. He later added: “Retail cannabis doesn’t have to be in such close proximity to our schools. I’m not asking that you say no to retail cannabis. I’m not asking that you say no to Embarc.”
Miller IV spoke at the start of the meeting, saying he wanted the business to be a “partner” in the community. Embarc has taken steps to alleviate concerns of those opposed to the location, including meeting directly with MUSD officials and agreeing to strictly enforce a “two strikes and you’re out” policy regarding offsite parking.
“I understand the concerns of the school and I want you to understand that unlike a liquor store, unlike a grocery store that sells alcohol and tobacco, nobody, nobody can get in that is underage,” Miller IV said, later adding, “You have my word as someone who grew up here…we will do everything to live up to our end of the bargain.”
Many of the residents who spoke out against the measure said they believed its location would make it easy for high schoolers to acquire marijuana, some noting high rates of vaping among teens nationwide. Others said they were concerned that if the dispensary were robbed it could lead to a lockdown at the school.
MUSD board member John Fuller also suggested, without evidence, that the council was approving the measure to receive political favors from the Miller family. He said the family had “tarnished” its legacy, and would now be forever known only as “marijuana dealers.” George Miller III spent most of his life in public service, as did his father, George Miller Jr.
When it came time to vote, council members noted that the conditional use permit only lasts a year, and said if Embarc did not live up to its promise the permit wouldn’t be renewed. The three who voted yes all noted the Embarc was the most favorable applicant of all the proposed dispensaries that were on the table.
“I know this is very detrimental, probably, to people’s thoughts of me, but I think a good operator in a place that isn’t perfect is better than a so-so operator down the street,” Ross said.
McKillop, who runs the county’s crime lab as a day job, predicted the community would eventually “embrace” the dispensary.
“This is not what we’re talking about here tonight, we’re talking about a business model,” McKillop said. “Something that is completely different from an illicit market. It actually pushes out the illicit market.”
DeLaney, in her remarks, said the dispensary was an example of a type of business that many people support, but no one wants nearby. Ironically, the last time the council approved a marijuana dispensary — known as Firefly — there was an almost identical controversy, with the owner of a nearby gym failing to convince the council that his business was a youth center and shouldn’t have to have a dispensary next door.
“A lot of people don’t like it but we also balance that with the fact that a lot of people in the community do like it and they do want it here… they don’t feel like it’s as scary a concept as a lot of parents feel,” DeLaney said.