Dispensary: It will be several months before any store can possibly open its doors. Clara Harter

While marijuana dispensaries have been sprouting like weeds across Los Angeles, no company has been able to take root in Santa Monica’s highly regulated soil — until now.

After being selected by the City as one of two cannabis companies in a 2018 licensing application process, CPC Compassion Inc. has secured a location at 925 Wilshire Blvd. and submitted its application for a Conditional Use Permit.

If the permit is granted, construction and design plans approved, and other necessary licenses obtained, Santa Monica could see its first dispensary open doors by December at the earliest. However, unlike almost every other dispensary in LA, it will not be selling marijuana for recreational use.

This is due to Santa Monica’s Cannabis Ordinance, which only allows for two medical dispensaries to do business in a strictly defined area of the City. These rules were passed by City Council in October 2017 — a few months after recreational marijuana was legalized in California — and then extended until 2023 by a vote in February 2020.

The team behind CPC Compassion is excited to be the first dispensary to open in Santa Monica’s coveted market, but acknowledges that there will be difficulties that come with its medical only designation.

“Finding providers that can give recommendation letters is not required by 99 percent of all the dispensaries here, so it is going to be a challenge for patients to find recommendation letters to then come use our dispensary,” said Dr. Paul Song, chief medical officer at CPC Compassion’s parent company Calyx Peak.

Prior to California’s recreational legalization of marijuana, customers needed a letter from a medical professional to patronize a dispensary.

While there was formerly a large market of letter providers, the infrastructure faded away once recreational use was legalized.

Song remains optimistic about the viability of CPC Compassion’s Santa Monica dispensary as Calyx Peak specializes in the medicinal uses of marijuana and aims to service this market locally.

“We’re targeting a different user than the recreational user. We’re targeting people that maybe have difficulty sleeping and have been taking Ambien far longer than they should be or people that have chronic joint pain,” said Song. “We still think there’s a real market for people that are suffering but don’t necessarily want to go light up a jay; they may want to take either an edible or apply a cream.”

Song is a 14 year resident of Santa Monica and a licensed physician radiation oncologist. He was drawn into the field of medical marijuana after witnessing its pain relief benefits during his late father’s battle with cancer.

“We are really going to bring a much more medicinal professional side to this,” said Song. Between the opioid epidemic, the number of people that are hooked on Ambien or benzodiazepines, if we can help reduce those needs and usage — that’s what we want to do.”

Once the City’s Cannabis Ordinance edges closer to its 2023 expiration date, City Council could choose to extend it further as written or alter it to allow for recreational dispensaries. Song expressed hope that recreational stores could be allowed as he acknowledged that it would help the company’s bottom line.

However, Song maintained that above all CPC seeks to prove its benefit to the community and always play by the rules — of which there are many.

Dispensaries are allowed to open along a two mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Lincoln to the city limits or on Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th or between 23rd and Centinela Avenue. The shops may not be within 600 feet of a school, daycare, park, library, social services center, or the other cannabis business.

Prior to receiving a license to operate in the City, CPC beat out 19 other applicants to secure one of two available spots in December 2018. Notably, CPC narrowly edged out national marijuana mogul MedMen for the second spot with a score of 60.76 compared to 60.35.

The development of the two licensed companies was delayed by an appeal process of almost two years, during which several applicants protested their exclusion. City Planning ultimately upheld the original selection decision and issued Preliminary Selection Letters for the two retailers in November 2020.

With a lease agreement in place and a hefty Conditional Use Permit application fee of $19,257.25 filed, CPC is awaiting Planning Commission review. According to City Public Information Officer Constance Farrell, this is anticipated to take place in the fall.

“Beyond issuance of a CUP, the company will need a Santa Monica business license and Medicinal Cannabis Retailer Permit as well as a State license from the Bureau of Cannabis Control,” said Farrell.