University Avenue is improving. Between 70th and Baltimore, La Mesa is “maximizing walkability and creating a unifying streetscape theme” by installing trees along the sidewalks, amending crosswalks, updating street lights, and most significantly, planting the medians with lantana, deer grass, and desert willow, among other species. Call it La Mesa’s Green Mile, a stretch that also happens to host five medical marijuana dispensaries.
In one way, the concentration isn’t surprising: the same mile features an EmbroidMe, Morgan’s Monograms, and Embroidery Express, plus four auto dealers and six auto-repair shops. But certain eyebrows might rise at the sight of Herbal Trust, just east of the Salvation Army Joan Kroc Center — and its welcome banner advertising Family Fun Nights — and just south of the rainbow-shaded sign for Grossmont Pediatrics (also Helix High School at 7323 University and the Learning Jungle Child Care and Preschool at 7484).
Inside Herbal Trust’s lobby, the trippy, weed-themed art contrasts with the bland gray of the walls. Patients check in (often ignoring the sign instructing them to remove hoods and hats) and disappear into the dispensary’s secure interior. The long line moves fast, but not fast enough: “I gotta go to work,” announces a recent arrival. “Would it be cool if I go ahead?” The line opens up; the marijuana user will not be late for his job.
Herbal Trust — like Power Plant next to Innovative Center Adult Day Care, and Greener Side Wellness at the other end of the Green Mile — feels like a business. “People come in here knowing exactly what they’re looking for,” says the security guard at Greener Side, even though the lobby wall features a periodic table of marijuana strains courtesy of Leafly.com, where you can “search thousands of cannabis varieties by medical use and effect.” But the cheek-by-jowl strip-mall dispensaries La Mesa’s Finest and The Vault feel like a scene. People mill about outside and chat; a volunteer admonishes departing patients to “be safe.”
On an office chair between the two, Ariana the Flute Girl Morning Bird sits and plays soothing tunes on her wooden High Spirits Native American flute. “I’m here always,” she says, “because I like to greet people and make them feel really welcome and not so stressed. It’s peaceful, it’s marijuana, and people shouldn’t feel sketched out. Especially if it’s their first time — sometimes they feel like they have to be secretive, and it’s, like, ‘No, it’s an open thing.’ It’s my religion to smoke weed; everyone should, because it just brings peace to people. They’re more relaxed, happier.”
Ariana says the peace extends to the neighbors, including the nail salon next door. “I got my nails done there. Her name is Lauren, and me and her daughter have the same birthday. There’s no tension. The only tension is when people don’t look both ways in the parking lot. That’s when the flute comes in to bring the vibes down.”