CA: Cannabis Dispensary Settles Into Old Town Eureka

Photo Credit: Shaun Walker

A young man wearing a button-down shirt and tie met the customer at the locked door at just after noon on Saturday. The customer had his identification out and in his hand as the locked door was opened and he entered EcoCann, a cannabis dispensary on F Street in Eureka.

The customer could have been going into one of the other dozens of businesses located in Old Town Eureka but this time he was there to purchase marijuana.

“We have had very little push back,” dispensary CEO and president, Jeff Poel, 58, said. “It’s been a very positive reception. I’ve spoken with the people at Mazzotti’s, Jorge with Amigas Burritos said he’s seen an uptick in customers and we probably attract 10 more people per day down here who are eating lunch or purchasing a T-shirt.”

Poel opened the doors to the dispensary in September 2017 in anticipation of Proposition 64 going into effect in January. It wasn’t easy finding a storefront in downtown, and Poel said the opening was delayed because of the struggle to find a retail space.

“I’m very happy with F Street. It’s been great and we have great landlord. He deserves a mention, Jack Freeman,” Poel said. “He was one of the few people who would rent to us and we were delayed three months because we first needed a space before we could get the permits.”

There were concerns from many in the community that allowing cannabis-related businesses would attract an unseemly crowd but after having spoken with more than a dozen visitors and neighboring businesses that does not seem to be the case.

“They run a tight ship over there,” said Steve Johnson of Old Town Jewelers, located across the street from the dispensary. Johnson pointed out to one unexpected benefit — there are more people out and about on the block.

“It does feel good having more people down here,” he said. “It increases the sense of security and it makes it less likely that something bad will happen. Overall it’s been a good experience.”

The novelty of a cannabis retail outlet is beginning to wear off as more and more people get used to the fact that marijuana has been decriminalized in California. When Poel first opened his doors he had lines around the block for the first few days, but it’s evened out since then.

“I think there is a high ceiling for retail. Our numbers have tailed off a bit since we opened but since September of 2017 we have generated more than $200,000 in sales taxes for the city of Eureka,” Poel said. “I don’t know the exact number but that’s money that before would disappear into the woods. Now it goes to our schools and roads and parks.”

Poel, who has a master’s degree in chemistry and toxicology from Oregon State University said that attitudes toward marijuana have already begun to change and will continue to do so.

“I was just in my attorney’s office and he’s much more conservative than me and I was telling him that half our customers look like me and you and they are coming in because they hurt,” Poel said. “When I started using cannabis it was to help deal with the pain from a neck injury. There was a cooked-in negative bias [toward marijuana] and it’s taken a generation of people who have worked very hard to change those prejudices. It’s working and it’s finally changing.”

Eureka City Councilwoman Kim Bergel said that she has heard a lot of concerns from residents, valid concerns, but Bergel also said that a new industry will create jobs and bring in increased tax revenue.

“We had a presentation at a recent meeting that showed the job creation from the industry and there has been a large amount of new hires,” she said. “Secondly, a business like EcoCann, they are so highly regulated that it would be very challenging to get up and running and they do this because they want to be legitimate businesses. I feel like we can have positive impacts to our city with the industry and EcoCann is a real example of what the future can look like.”

Brendan Fearon, a native of Liverpool, England, and the owner and operator of Old Town Carriage Co., said he hasn’t heard much about the business. “No one has mentioned it to me,” he said as he brushed down his horse Barney and prepared for a day of rides around the city. “Now I’ve not been out as much as I normally am, so we’ll see in the coming weeks if there is any reaction.”

Poel is looking forward to the summer season as well.

“We expect business may pick up in the summer. I think with tourism and as acceptance for cannabis grows you’re going to see more and more average Joes smoke a joint instead of having a beer,” he said. “We think that when you allow these seed businesses to grow they will generate money and customers for nearby businesses as well.”

Other than security at the door — you must be allowed in and your ID is checked and recorded — EcoCann could have been any other business in downtown as customers stopped in to make a purchase. That purchase may have been a new strain of marijuana, but increasingly it may soon blend in with the traditional retails sales that take place everyday in Old Town.