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A Toxic Mix: Cannabis Dispensaries & Family Hotspots

Columnist: Lawrence Amaturo
September, 2018 Issue

Lawrence Amaturo
All articles by columnist

Since the recreational use of cannabis was formally legalized on January 1, the emerging cannabis industry has been making headlines across the North Bay. As you may recall, we covered the topic in the July issue in “Growing Pains,” and I’ve received numerous emails from our readers since then.

Recently, I received a cache of letters addressed to Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey in regard to a proposed marijuana dispensary in a historic area of downtown Santa Rosa. Most of these letters were in opposition to approving a new business, Fiasco Dispensary, but not for the reasons you might suspect.

In late 2017, Coursey and the rest of the city council unanimously adopted its “Comprehensive Cannabis Ordinance” and they’re currently reviewing 38 retail applications for the roughly 23 locations it has deemed appropriate for immediate opening. To put this expansion in perspective, after more than two decades of careful selection, there are 20 Starbucks Coffee shops in Santa Rosa. Nonetheless, the city has created a map of where these dispensaries should be located with a major concern to prevent one from popping up next to another within 600 feet.

This particular application for Fiasco Dispensary caught my attention and that of many others. The company is applying to the city to move into a 5,000-plus-square-foot space within a tiny strip mall along Santa Rosa’s 4th Street. Customers of the dispensary will have access to its services via a number of delivery vehicles carrying up to $10,000 of marijuana and an unspecified amount of cash for their proposed door-to-door service.

Most of the letters opposing this business have nothing to do with the pros and cons of recreational marijuana and much more to do with this proposed location. You see, the applicant's interest is to share the parking lot with the area's Fosters Freeze.

Every day in Santa Rosa, there’s no more reliable place to find young families with children, teenagers, adults and seniors dining outside eating hamburgers, fries and sundaes at Fosters’ outdoor picnic tables. These benches are within feet of the dispensary’s proposed store entrance and even closer to where its delivery vehicles are likely to be loaded and unloaded.

It’s my understanding that California dispensaries are prohibited by law to house firearms, or arm their employees against thieves. In other words, these marijuana delivery vehicles would be loaded and unloaded only a few feet from the Fosters Freeze park benches with poor defenses against armed robbery. As families casually enjoy their ice cream at Fosters Freeze, or meals just yards away at SuperBurger, Fiasco believes it has found the right place to transact its business. This is a toxic mix—an accident waiting to happen. What about the safety of families with young children and teenagers? What about the safety of adjacent residential homeowners and nearby businesses? And what about the safety of the hundreds of pedestrians who walk by each day taking their dogs for walks, or stopping for lunch at Dierk’s Midtown Café or dinner at nearby Bruno’s on Fourth?

A long-standing defense lawyer, Jeremy Fietz, is one citizen who shared his concern about this location in a letter to Mayor Coursey. Fietz wrote: “Rolling out dispensaries must be done with the utmost care for both the potential for problems as well as the perception of City planning and how business, consumers, as well as residents feel about how our City is planned.” Mr. Fietz has always been a supporter of cannabis legalization, but his concern is centered on where we locate these businesses. He added, “Surely throughout City limits there must be more appropriate locations for a dispensary that is not next to family hot spots and family residences.”

No doubt Mayor Coursey is carefully considering the views of citizens. Why not share your opinion with him at To his great credit, I understand that Coursey has replied to each of those residents who have written him.

Are you seeing similar conflicts in your own community? And how should we define “appropriate locations?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on these matters; we can help guide our city leaders with a concerted voice. Reach me at




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