First Dispensary Opens In Santa Ana


SANTA ANA – A suite in industrial southeast Santa Ana opened to select members of the public for the first time Tuesday, with LED lighting, advanced security and air ventilation systems, and the faint but distinct scent of marijuana.

It was the soft opening of South Coast Safe Access, the first and only medical pot dispensary to be licensed so far under Santa Ana’s new, lawsuit-ridden permitting system, and the first regulated dispensary in the county.

Amid juggling jars and containers of weed to finish stocking the glass counters by Saturday’s grand opening, the collective’s president Derek Worden paused to admire a prized, tri-color piece of paper – his operation’s certificate of occupancy, city business license and regulatory safety permit.

“This is the most intriguing part of the puzzle, why we spent so much money,” Worden said, pointing to the number 2015-01. “This is it right here.”

There were “a lot of obstacles,” he said, to earning the license, and being the first.

Worden, 47, who’s been in the medical marijuana industry for about five years, said he and his partners had been working on the collective since Jan. 1, when they signed a lease for 1900 E. Warner Ave. Suite 1-A. The following month, they entered 58 balls – costing $1,690 each – in a city lottery that included more than 600 entries.

Worden was one of 20 selected for the opportunity to apply for a license to run a medical marijuana operation. He and his operators then went through a vetting process with the Santa Ana chief of police that involved background checks and ensuring he complied with measure BB, passed by voters to establish the lottery system and regulatory framework for the medical pot shops.

Commander Chris Revere of the Santa Ana Police Department confirmed the dispensary was the first one to have a regulatory safety permit approved. The permit was issued Friday and is effective for one year, the permit says.

South Coast Safe Access – operating with two secretaries who check for medical marijuana identification cards, eight “budtenders,” two security guards and a manager – helped the city draft the Measure BB, according to the collective’s lawyer, Randall Longwith.

The lottery and Measure BB are under fire by superior and federal court lawsuits by individuals whose numbers were not drawn in the lottery and felt the system was unfair.

A Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order in June on Measure BB, halting the process for South Coast Safe Access and other collectives, but it was lifted later that month. That was the biggest hurdle, Longwith said.

“I don’t think (Measure) BB is in harm’s way,” he said. “I don’t think anything would unravel it.”

The city attorney and city manager’s offices would not comment on the pending litigation Tuesday.

Worden said he went to great lengths to obtain a license for his dispensary in order to give his target customers – baby boomers, disabled people and veterans, and not younger recreational users – a place that isn’t a rogue shop to buy what they need.

Some neighbors at the plaza don’t seem to mind the new presence.

Chase Ragusa, marketing director at the print and woodworking Ragusa Pattern across the plaza from the collective, said he hasn’t once seen customers high in the parking lot.

“They’re doing their thing and it’s legit, so why make it a forbidden fruit?” Ragusa said.

No police officers were present during the soft opening early Tuesday afternoon.

South Coast Safe Access was designed to feel like a Ritz Carlton, Worden said, but he hopes it will be like Starbucks – spreading to San Clemente, Costa Mesa and south Orange County.

“You won’t see me here,” he said. “I’m off to the next venture.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7762, [email protected] or on Twitter: @JessicaGKwong


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