La Mesa poised to award license to first medical pot dispensary

Sean McDermott’s medical marijuana dispensary, The Grove, appears poised to become the first such licensed business in La Mesa.

The facility received the unanimous approval of the La Mesa Planning Commission on Feb. 21 and is scheduled for a vote in March by the City Council. Barring any last-minute hurdles (a competing medical cannabis collective has threatened to file an appeal), the dispensary should open this summer.

The Grove, to be located at 8155 Center St., is in the city’s industrial service and manufacturing zone. It will be a dispensary only, and will not be growing or manufacturing the drug. McDermott said he has been paying rent on the vacant site since late 2016 in anticipation of opening.

In November 2016, La Mesa voters passed Proposition U, requiring the city to update municipal codes and create a permit process. The measure authorizes and regulates dispensaries, and the cultivating and manufacturing of medical marijuana.

To be accepted into the city, The Grove met nearly 90 criteria points, including those related to zoning; distance from schools, parks and other sensitive areas; security, lighting and hours; and site maintenance.

McDermott, 53, said he has invested nearly a quarter-million dollars in the business he intends to run with his son, Corey. That money included an initial clearance fee of $1,200 to the city, plus application fees totaling more than $10,000.

“I feel pretty good about it,” said McDermott, a La Mesa resident since 1978. “The La Mesa location is about 1,000 feet. It’s going to be cozy.”

McDermott attended Helix High School and has owned several other businesses over the years, including burglar and fire alarms and stereo speakers sales.

He is also one of three applicants in line for a conditional-use permit to open a dispensary in neighboring Lemon Grove. His application is still in the review stage for a dispensary at 6470 Federal Blvd., the city says. The earliest for a hearing on that business will be in April. Voters in Lemon Grove also OK’d an ordinance allowing medical marijuana facilities in certain parts of the city.

The Grove will sell everything from edibles, such as pot-infused Gummi bears, to marijuana flowers to oils and tinctures.

McDermott said he will be running his collective as he has run his other businesses — “always customers first.”

“It’s a quarter-million-dollar investment I’ve made,” he said. “It seems as though the common sentiment is that these businesses are ‘cash cows’ and that’s it. Yes, they are cash-based, but there are a lot of other businesses that people make good money on.

“It’s a business that has the potential to be profitable, but new regulations in the state and in the city have changed some of that profitability. It becomes a good business to be in if you’re a good operator. But the world is filled with failed businesses. Just opening a marijuana business is no guarantee of riches.”

La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis said he could not speak to the collective’s opening because he said there is still time for a competing medical marijuana facility to ask the City Council to reject the plan.

McDermott said the proprietor of another dispensary looking to open in the city may reach out to the City Council asking it to reject The Grove’s plan. He said the other business expressed concerns at the Feb. 21 Planning Commission meeting.

Those concerns included questions about the way the city went about accepting applications for medical marijuana collectives through a numbering system as well as perceived parking issues.

The city said no appeal has been filed but they expect to receive one on or before the March 8 deadline, 10 business days after the Planning Commission meeting. The City Council will hold a public meeting after that time to hear any appeal and after that, would be able to give the green light to the McDermotts.

McDermott, who will employ 20 people, said that when that happens, he and his son will “finally start the process of moving forward” in La Mesa, and then look toward Lemon Grove.

It’s been a long road since 2016 for the two businessmen.

“We hope to be open by mid-June or for sure by the fourth of July,” McDermott said.

Before that happens, La Mesa will be looking at a way to tax medical marijuana businesses in the city. The city will hold a public meeting to discuss a potential Cannabis Excise Business Tax that may be considered for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The meeting is set for 6 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 28 at the La Mesa Community Center in the Arbor Room. The center is at 4975 Memorial Drive.

Copyright © 2018, Pacific San Diego