As the attorney for Forest Knolls Wellness, a non-profit collective that has applied for a county permit to operate a medical cannabis dispensary in Forest Knolls, I want to respond to your Nov. 23 article and to the opinion piece by Gregory Slugocki. I hope to clarify some of the misinformation regarding the collective’s permit application.
Based on conversations with locals at a meet and greet on Oct. 22, there are four primary concerns about the proposal. First, some worry the dispensary would result in an increase in traffic in the area. The collective expects to serve about 50 qualified patients a day, far less than the roughly 200 customers who used it as a gas station. Because of this small number of patients, we do not expect negative traffic impacts on the neighborhood.
Parking was a second concern. The collective’s site plan provides 13 parking spaces, including two A.D.A. accessible spaces, shared by the tenants of both buildings. Based on the limited number of patients per day, the collective does not anticipate an increase or change in the number of vehicles parking at the property. Some residents expressed concern about drivers pulling out from the existing perpendicular parking spaces. The San Geronimo Planning Group’s April 2016 newsletter stated that “very few students use the path in the area,” so the perpendicular parking slots on the property should not present a safety problem for students or others.
Third, some expressed concern about child safety. The collective’s intent is to provide a safe and secure facility. The collective has a strict security procedure to restrict entrance to the dispensary to verified patients over the age of 21. Some locals worry that children might be dropped off by a school bus in front of the dispensary. Though never formally designated by the county or school district as a bus stop, the district has in the past received verbal permission for this use by the property’s owners. The collective has not been able to obtain further data on the number and frequency of students who are dropped off there or on the number of children who pass by on bicycle or foot. The collective intends to take every step possible to address and mitigate such concerns including, if necessary, facilitating the move of the existing bus stop to a nearby permanent and safe location approved by the county.
Some are worried about a potential increase in crime. The county has imposed an annual $12,000 monitoring fee for licenses that will be used to increase patrols in the area. The collective has a strict employee procedure in place for safe handling of medical cannabis and cash, including daily procedures for securing all cash and cannabis products in locked safes after closing. Technology that reduces the amount of cash at the dispensary, such as cashless A.T.M.s, will be utilized.
In fact, a licensed dispensary at this location should reduce crime associated with the black market cannabis transactions that presently occur in the valley, and will also protect children by prohibiting black market activities such as illegally selling cannabis to minors.
In addition to these four primary areas of concern, the collective also intends to preserve the existing businesses at the site. This intent has been personally communicated to the owners of The Farm Stand, Garageland and Pump Espresso Bar. Two of Forest Knolls Wellness’s directors are residents of Marin and long-time activists for environmental preservation, green building and other social justice causes, including the right of patients to safely obtain alternative medicines to treat their illnesses.
Lastly, some concerns were raised at October’s meet and greet about the design of the dispensary and whether security bars would be placed on the windows and neon lights used for signage. The collective does not intend to do either; in fact, it does not intend to make major structural changes to the face of the building, but rather minimally build out the interior to give the space an airy and boutique feel similar to the existing businesses at the location.
Some qualified patients do not have access to a vehicle or public transportation in West Marin, yet still need to legally obtain medicine to treat their illnesses. Since the proposed location is more remote than those on the 101 corridor, patients in the San Geronimo Valley who are disabled, elderly, veterans and low-income will benefit from the free delivery service the dispensary will offer once a week. Some locals have said they use unlicensed delivery services or drive to dispensaries in San Francisco. By obtaining medicine through a local, licensed dispensary, West Marin residents can both reduce the risks associated with using an unlicensed delivery service and the carbon footprint associated with driving to other counties.
Forest Knolls Wellness seeks local support for its application, which includes a comprehensive security plan, community benefit programs, and patient rules and regulations, such as no smoking, loitering or on-site consumption of cannabis. The collective plans to immediately address and mitigate any safety or other community concerns that arise as a result of its operations in Forest Knolls.
Natalia Thurston is the attorney for Forest Knolls Wellness. She grew up in San Francisco and now lives in Oakland.