LOMPOC, Calif. - Lompoc was among the first cities on the Central Coast to embrace the cannabis industry after voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 which legalized recreational use of marijuana in California.
The move is returning big dividends to the city at a time when it needs the revenue.
The Royal Healing Emporium in Lompoc is conveniently located in a popular shopping center along Central Avenue on the north side of the city.
Jennifer Thorstenson says the location has been a big boon to business.
"I think our location is what makes us different from all the other dispensaries, we get a lot of new customers, a lot of people that are curious," Thorstenson said.
The dispensary offers a variety of cannabis products for recreational and medicinal use to clients 21 and older along with home delivery service.
"We're like the mom and pop store of Lompoc, so that's why we really try to push our customer service," Thorstenson said.
The smaller, locally-owned Royal Healing Emporium has competition. Several other dispensaries also now sell cannabis in Lompoc.
With more than a dozen storefront dispensaries now open and operating in Lompoc, the city says it has a growing list of those seeking permits to open even more.
"We're at 52 permit applications and 35 of those have been issued and 14 of those dispensaries have opened," said Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne.
Tax revenue for the city from cannabis operations is now well over a million dollars a year at a time when the city continues to struggle with budget deficits and funding essential city services like public safety, parks and recreation.
Osborne said tax revenue from cannabis is filling the hole left from other lost tax sources.
"During the pandemic the hotel tax fell nearly 60 percent in our community and cannabis retail tax from across the industry are backfilling that loss," Osborne said.
Osborne says the city has a solid, working relationship with the local cannabis industry.
"It falls to our local entity and learning those lessons, needing to do the oversight, 'what does it look like and what is the partnership,'" Osborne said. "It's not us against them, it's, 'how do we all succeed and really prove that a free market with the cannabis industry can really be a successful and healthy relationship.'"
Despite the economic impact, not everyone is happy with the proliferation of pot shops in the city.
"It's way too many for a city this size," said Bob Lingl, former Mayor And City Councilmember. "Right now it is costing the city more money to administer and audit the cannabis industry than the city is taking in tax revenue."
Those on the retail side say it's a highly-regulated, professionally-run business that's generating jobs and tax revenue, and they say the industry is here to stay.
"I would like people to start being a little bit more open minded rather than those who think its just to get stupid, a lot of it is for medicinal uses," said Thorstenson. "You can use CBD which will have no psychoactive effects and that can also help you on a daily basis rather than returning to alcohol or substances that can really get you into trouble."
Other Central Coast cities are watching Lompoc closely and making plans to follow its lead. Nearby Guadalupe is considering a cannabis ordinance that would allow for the opening of dispensaries in that city.