A plan is underway to open a marijuana dispensary in the town of Laguna Woods.

A location has been chosen, with an option for a building a stone’s throw from a Village gate. A development agreement has been drawn up that would guarantee the town an annual income and bring other benefits to the community, advocates say. Even a name for the dispensary has been proposed.

The city council must now approve the plan.

A panel of cannabis lawyers and advocates held a plan forum in Laguna Woods Village on August 26 to introduce the concept of a marijuana dispensary to the town and to find out what village residents would want in a point local sales. Fifty people attended the meeting.

One of the project’s partners is Aaron Herzberg, a former divorce lawyer turned cannabis lawyer who founded the Bud & Bloom medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana in 2016. (He has since sold it.)

“The goal is for the Laguna Woods dispensary to be senior-focused,” Herzberg said, “and specifically focus on the needs of Laguna Woods seniors.”

Herzberg has personal experience with marijuana and the elderly, he said: His mother found relief from shingles pain after convincing her to try a cannabis tincture.

The Laguna Woods dispensary would emphasize medical marijuana products alongside recreational pot, Herzberg said.

In an effort to focus on the elderly, the dispensary would have a designated entrance for the elderly, especially those with chronic illnesses; access ramps as well as wide interior aisles to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers; seats for queuing customers; a pager system to alert waiting customers; sound absorbing materials for an environment suitable for hearing aids; and designated staff who would consult with seniors individually.

The dispensary would also hire residents of the village – a point of great interest to the participants of the meeting. The expected minimum wage would be $24 per hour.

Lonnie Painter, a resident of the village, is said to be a consultant for the elderly at the dispensary. Painter started a cannabis collective in the village in 2009 and for 10 years ran cannabis education workshops, offered one-on-one counseling and sold marijuana products to approximately 1,000 residents who joined his collective.

But when Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana in California and imposed new licensing requirements starting in 2019, he was forced to shut down his collective. He has since restarted the Village Cannabis Club.

Painter is excited about the proposed Laguna Woods dispensary.

“I haven’t been excited about any project for a long time, but this project that I believe in,” he said at the meeting. “The question is why do we have to go all the way to Santa Ana” to get cannabis.

The proposed dispensary would certainly be near the Village. The building under option is just outside Gate 3 – the medical building at 24902 Moulton Parkway, next to the McCormick & Son morgues.

Forum residents said they were concerned about the “sleazy factor” a dispensary might bring and possibly some unsavory characters hanging around. A big concern was also the possibility of an increase in crime in the area.

Panel members assured residents of their commitment to being “good neighborhood stewards.” The dispensary would be “upscale”, they said, with loitering not permitted. To deter crime, they said, there would be security guards, cameras and adequate lighting.

Chad Wanke is another partner in the dispensary project. Wanke owns a government relations firm and spent years on Placentia City Council, serving two terms as mayor. He is also an “expert in municipal cannabis policy,” he said, acting as a liaison between the dispensary’s project teams and cities.

Wanke comes from a Southern Baptist family, he said, but they are now “cannabis believers.” For him too, the subject of cannabis and seniors is personal. Before his father died of colon cancer in 2015, Wanke was able to persuade him to try a medical marijuana product.

“It relieved symptoms from chemo, radiation and surgery,” Wanke said. “It definitely improved his quality of life.”

Marijuana also helped ease the pain his mother suffered after knee replacement surgery, he said. She used a topical product and a tincture.

Wanke said his goal is to help people get off opioids and other potentially dangerous drugs and get them to try marijuana instead.

“God created cannabis as it is – it’s a plant and it helps people,” he said.

But it’s not easy to convince people of that. In fact, he says, he’s been called “the devil” for his views on cannabis.

“‘Reefer Madness’ is alive and well in America,” Wanke said, referring to the 1936 film which was intended as an educational film against marijuana use.

It’s also not easy to persuade some members of the Laguna Woods city council to approve a dispensary in the city, Wanke said.

The team worked out a development deal with guaranteed annual revenues to the city of a minimum of $400,000, up to $1.75 million, depending on sales revenue from the dispensary.

Laguna Woods Mayor Carol Moore and Councilman Ed Tao have taken a wait-and-see approach to a dispensary. In separate emails, they highlighted a city measure that was placed on the November ballot. Measure T is a tax measure for cannabis businesses that, if approved by voters, would impose a tax on cannabis sales.

Regarding a marijuana dispensary in Laguna Woods, Tao said, “It’s a good idea if we can go through the process after clear input from voters and our own research.”

He added that it was “likely” the city would approve a dispensary. “We’ll find out,” Tao said.

Moore was concerned about the taxation of legal marijuana.

“My concerns relate to the high taxes that are imposed on cannabis, which makes it difficult for legal cannabis operators to stay in business,” she said. “Illegal cannabis is booming because of its low cost. …

“The continual push for extra money has hurt small operators especially.”

Councilwoman Shari Horne enthusiastically supports the idea of ​​a cannabis dispensary in Laguna Woods.

“I am a strong advocate for seniors’ access to cannabis,” she said in an email. She, too, believes that cannabis “can significantly reduce opioid use and unpleasant side effects.”

Horne recalled the regular bus service that once took villagers to a dispensary in Santa Ana. She would take that bus and talk about marijuana to the people on board.

“They get benefits for their pain, lack of appetite, inability to sleep or just relax,” she said. “I believe seniors deserve every tool in the toolbox to have their best quality of life.”

Horne has personal experience of the benefits of cannabis: “It helps my husband sleep and it helps me relax at the end of the day. It also helps my appetite.

Having a dispensary in Laguna Woods would eliminate the trip to Santa Ana, Horne said.

And, “although delivery is an option, being able to smell the product is really important,” she said. “You can also talk to knowledgeable people and see various new products, like patches and tinctures.”

Additionally, she said, “I personally would welcome new revenue to supplement senior services for our community.”

The next step to getting a cannabis dispensary in Laguna Woods rests in the hands — and voices — of village residents, said Wanke, the panel’s cannabis policy expert.

“City Council needs to hear from the public and from voters that you want a dispensary in Laguna Woods,” he said.

He urged residents to call, text or email council members, and especially to show up for city council meetings.

“When people are willing to take the time to go to a city council meeting, that sends a strong message,” Wanke said.

Horne said she had heard of the residents who were at the forum before.

“We all get emails from people who have seen this presentation,” she said. “I will say that they all supported me except one.

“This subject attracts a lot of people to our boardrooms,” she added. “Sometimes their arguments can sway a board member on the fence.”

Further meetings on the proposed dispensary are planned.

The Village Cannabis Club will meet on Tuesday, September 13 at 3 p.m. at Clubhouse 2. Among the topics that will be discussed is Measure T, the cannabis tax measure. Horne said she would speak about the measure at the meeting.

So on the name of the dispensary. The plan was to call it The Fireplace, according to panel members, denoting a “warm and inviting environment.”

That name isn’t exactly appropriate for wildfire-prone California, a forum resident pointed out.

It has since been changed to Creekside.

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