You can now buy recreational cannabis in East County

Sean McDermott (left), owner of The Grove cannabis shop in La Mesa, looks over one of the store’s products with Larry Fennell, one of his first hires from the summer of 2018. The site on Center Street was the first in East County authorized by California to sell adult-use cannabis products. McDermott said he received confirmation from the state by mail on May 6 and The Grove had its first recreational cannabis product sale on May 7.
(Karen Pearlman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Grove was given green light by the state to sell adult-use pot products

La Mesa’s first legal medicinal cannabis dispensary is now selling adult-use cannabis products, too, the only East County operation allowed to do so.

The Grove opened in July 2018 in the city’s industrial zone with a green light to sell cannabis items to people with county or state-authorized medical marijuana identification cards. On Thursday, the store began offering recreational-use flowers, vaping cartridges, edibles and tinctures.

Sean McDermott, owner of The Grove, said he received an email from the state at about 7 p.m. Wednesday that had a copy of his business license and a little blurb congratulating him on being able to sell both medical and recreational products.

“It’s pretty exciting, it’s fun to be first,” McDermott said Thursday. “The wine is always sweeter when you make the grapes wait till the right moment.”

A steady stream of patrons practicing social distancing and wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic filed in and out of the 960-square-foot store on Center Street, some to buy products for medical purposes, others for recreation.

Steve Hunter of El Cajon said he was thankful that he was able to buy cannabis flower and vaping cartridges at The Grove. Hunter doesn’t have a medical ID card, but he said because of back issues and some anxiety, the products help him relax and sleep more comfortably at night.

He said there is an illegal marijuana dispensary five minutes away from his house, but that he prefers the 15-minute trip to a store that doesn’t draw a crowd of “unsafe” characters or sell products that he is concerned could contain ingredients that are potentially harmful.

“I’m 55 and the thought of going to illegal shops is kind of scary and intimidating,” Hunger said. “I like to know what I’m putting in my body and that it’s getting tested by the state of California. I try to stay healthy and eat well. I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy by putting anything in my body that you don’t know where i came from. These have packaging dates, information on what test has been done by what lab, and the quality is amazing.”

The Grove’s products are free of contaminants and pesticides, and are tracked, traced, regulated and certified by the state from growth to distribution, with every batch coming with its own certificate of authenticity.

McDermott said he has a regular crowd of medical cannabis users but expects an uptick in foot traffic because there is a “huge customer base” that wants to buy recreational cannabis products. Because The Grove is a “boutique store,” well lit and airy inside, with dozens of brightly colored pre-packaged and state-regulated products, McDermott said it speaks to “a certain type of clientele,” and one that will continue to grow.

McDermott said that there can be a stigma for some people in getting a medical recommendation for the purchase of cannabis products. He said that a person with a medical marijuana recommendation loses some federal rights including the right to buy a firearm. It can even cause them to lose their job, he said.

Most of the products in the store are for both medical or recreational usage, but some of those with higher contents of THC are not sold as adult-use. There are limits on the amount a customer can buy in a single visit. For example, a recreational user can purchase 1 ounce or 28 grams of flower while someone with a medical card can buy 8 ounces of the flower.

In November 2016, California voters, including 59 percent of La Mesa residents, approved Proposition 64, which required a state license for any commercial non-medical cannabis activities. At the same time, 53 percent of La Mesa voters passed Measure U authorizing and regulating by permit medical marijuana dispensaries, and the cultivating and manufacturing of medical marijuana.

McDermott has plans to open a second location of The Grove on Federal Boulevard in Lemon Grove. Lemon Grove voters in 2016 passed Measure V, which allows for medical marijuana dispensaries in certain locations. La Mesa and Lemon Grove remain the only cities in East County that allow for legal cannabis dispensaries.

In November 2018, 73 percent of the voters in La Mesa supported Measure V, which authorizes the city to tax commercial cannabis businesses and take a percentage of their gross receipts. The taxes are general in nature so the city can use the money for any legal municipal purpose.

Last September, the La Mesa City Council approved updating its ordinance to allow recreational marijuana products and medicinal cannabis to be sold at the same location, a co-location formula that was already green lighted in the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach.

Hunter said he spent more than $100 on Thursday for three different items at The Grove, and that the relief it gives him is worth every cent. He said he never used marijuana in high school, but said he “used to drink alcohol a lot,” and credited cannabis as helping him taper off his liquor consumption.

“It was starting to take its toll on me,” he said. “This is a way better alternative. It’s not for everybody but for me it helps me make better decisions and I feel better.”

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