Two cannabis industry professionals discussed the next steps for allowing a recreational cannabis storefront in Isla Vista on Tuesday night, placing emphasis on the need for feedback from students and long-term residents as to what they would like to see out of an I.V. dispensary. 

Nexus file photo

UC Santa Barbara’s Students for Sustainable Drug Policy (SSDP) organized the discussion, which brought a handful of local residents to California Tacos and Taproom. The discussion touched on a variety of topics relating to cannabis, but primarily served as an additional step in the community involvement process leading to the opening of a dispensary in I.V. in about a year. 

The two speakers were UCSB alumni Lauren Vazquez, a lawyer specializing in cannabis law, and Devon Wardlow, director of public affairs for Santa Barbara cannabis retailer Coastal Dispensary. They spoke extensively about cannabis use in I.V., noting that the next step toward bringing a recreational dispensary in I.V. is through community outreach.  

Vasquez explained that because the licensing process in I.V. for recreational dispensaries is ranked, community impact counts as the second most important factor in the ranking process. The financial viability of the business is ranked first, but Santa Barbara County is using a merit-based system to determine which businesses get the recreational marijuana licenses.

The county will be holding a meeting in I.V. within the coming months to gauge input from the community — specifically what residents would like out of a local dispensary and how the dispensary would contribute to improving the community, according to Vazquez. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the end of April, according to Gina Fischer, an aide to Santa Barbara county supervisor Joan Hartmann.

Wardlow said that Coastal Dispensary, which already has locations in Lompoc, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, is going to compete for the spot in I.V. and is putting together a community benefits package for the dispensary’s pitch based off of the feedback she gets from talking to I.V. residents.

“You guys have a ton of power in ensuring that somebody that comes to this community actually represents your community, and it’s actually going to do something helpful for you,” she said.

Wardlow said she couldn’t discuss certain details of the potential community benefits package due to the ongoing licensing process, but added that she believes a dispensary could benefit the Isla Vista Community Services District (I.V. CSD).

“The way I would propose it is that a portion of the cannabis taxes and revenue that comes from this store is funneled back into Isla Vista versus going into the general fund at the county,” Wardlow said.

However, Wardlow acknowledged that appropriating the dispensary’s funds away from the county and into the I.V. CSD would be difficult, and that all current plans Coastal Dispensary has regarding its community benefits package are subject to change.

While I.V. CSD President Spencer Brandt said that he can not comment on any ideas from the competing dispensaries regarding their community benefits packages, he added that he believes that the upcoming cannabis store will aid I.V.

“It’ll be a huge benefit to the community to have an additional revenue source because that’s money that should go right back into things that will fund our community facilities and programming for students and residents, our roads, sidewalks and street lights and our local schools,” Brandt said.

Ellie Hurtado, a fourth-year communication major and president of SSDP, said that she’d like the tax revenue from a dispensary to go toward helping I.V. families, as well as students who experience food and housing insecurity.

She added that she would like to see more money for local youth programs such as the St. George Youth Center YMCA.

Hurtado noted that while recreational cannabis is both legal and accessible for Isla Vistans who are 21 years old and older, with many residents ordering from dispensaries in Goleta and downtown Santa Barbara, the primary impact of a local dispensary would be the tax revenue it generates.

“Isla Vista has the opportunity through the county to be a really shining star in a larger ecosystem that is the central coast cannabis industry,” Wardlow said.