In spite of city council opposition, citizens of Vista voted in November to allow 11 new dispensaries to sell medicinal weed legally. But due to a last-minute decision by the city, the man largely responsible for getting the pro pot Measure Z on the ballot, was himself denied one of those licenses when they were awarded February 13.
“I spent over $300,000,” says Rodney Allen about what he forked out for signature collection, attorney fees, and consultants for three different initiatives to make Vista dispensaries legal. His first effort failed, he says, because of a “con artist” Allen says he relied on to get the signatures. The second effort failed he says because of a typo on the petition letterhead. “All 8,000 signatures were thrown out.” He says he spent about $7 for each signature.
His third try, which he mounted under the name Vistans for Safe Community Access, was the charm. After turning in 8,000 signatures, Measure Z qualified for last November’s ballot. It passed with 53.8 per cent "yes" votes, making Vista the first North County city to allow legal medical marijuana dispensaries. “More people voted on Measure Z than voted for the mayor’s race,” says Allen.
But though Measure Z may not have even existed without Allen’s incentive and investment, it didn’t help him when the city accepted applications.
“The line began at city hall began at midnight January 12 which was nine days before they started accepting applications.” Allen says he anticipated there would be a line because that’s how the initiative was written. “The time-stamp part of the law implied that’s how you would establish priority,” says Allen. “We wrote it that way because we didn’t want a lottery.”
But Allen says the 24/7 line outside city hall caused concern with city management. “They didn’t want these pot people to turn into an unruly mob,” says Allen. The dispensary hopefuls were told there was going to be an “unbiased” lottery January 22 that would decide which 11 acceptable applications would make the cut.
Allen did not complain. “I thought my chances were as good as anybody’s.”
But he was wrong. “My ball came up 31st out of 31…unfucking believable.”
He says the lottery results were skewed because of one applicant who tried to rig the system. Seven applications came from one entity. Allen says every hopeful knew turning in multiple applications was clearly forbidden. A letter from Vista city manager Patrick Johnson informed G1 Perez LLC dba Harvest of Vista that because it sent in seven applications, all its applications were tossed out.
“The fact that seven of their lottery balls were illegal and should not have been there in the first place, changed the odds for the rest of us,” notes Allen.
Allen says he was done wrong, but he’s not sure by whom. “It’s not clear if I could sue the city, or sue the people who filed the fake applications, or both. But I was told it could cost up to $150,000 and that I would only have a 50-50 chance of winning in court.”
Yet Allen says there are no hard feelings. “You have to understand, I’m not butt hurt. What the city did was wrong, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them for trying to do the right thing. They just didn’t want a public spectacle in front of city hall. I don’t feel like a victim. At the end of the day there are going to be 11 licensed medical marijuana stores in the city of Vista, and in that regard Measure Z was a complete success.”
Other applicants were rejected because their status as a corporation was invalid, their applications were incomplete, or because their planned address was located too close to a school. One applicant was rejected because it was too near Vista’s Japanese Cultural Center which was deemed a “youth center” by Vista.
Unlike most other applicants, Allen actually owned his proposed facility at 1020 East Vista Way. It’s the same building that housed Allen’s Laughing Leaf, an unlicensed dispensary, from 2014 to 2018. “I bought the building because the city had been hassling the property owner so much.” From independent accounts, Vista’s Laughing Leaf was hugely successful.
Allen, who lives in Wildomar, says he opened The Laughing Leaf in Vista because he thought the city had a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude about pot shops, unlike the Temecula area where he said, “They would kick the door down and wrap the place in chains. They don’t do that any more, but they did back then.”
He says there were already 12 other illegal dispensaries in greater Vista when he opened The Laughing Leaf. But he soon felt scorn directed at him. “When we first opened, they said we were marketing to kids. That was a bald-faced lie. We never marketed to kids, ever. The majority of our clients were over 40 years of age.”
He says his first cease-and-desist order came six weeks after he opened in the summer of 2014. “The Laughing Leaf was raided at least once a year. We’re talking full-on bomb squad-type, SWAT raids with DEA agents and gang enforcement stickers on the back of their bullet-proof vests.”
Allen maintains his Laughing Leaf was a stand-up business. “Of the twelve or so shops in Vista without a license, Laughing Leaf was the only one that paid all of its sales taxes. You can check that out. We had 32 employees who all had health insurance. We paid 80 per cent of their health insurance. Everyone had a 401K plan. I don’t know of any other local dispensary that had those benefits for their employees…The very first employee we fired was because he was disrespectful to police officers.”
Allen says in his tussles with the city, he has discovered that at least two Vista city council members are completely out of touch with reality. “They are so ill-informed about marijuana. You look at them talk and you think you’re seeing something out of 1952. Out of what cave did they just come out of?”
While all 11 Vista pot shops will only operate as medical dispensaries, Allen predicts that recreational cannabis will eventually arrive in Vista. “The largest turnout they ever had for a Vista City Council meeting was because of cannabis in late 2017. And in Oceanside, they will get recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot. And it will pass.”
Allen predicts that five of these new 11 Vista shops will fold because of their poor locations. “This is not an automatic license to print money. Like any business, location matters. Statewide, all medical dispensaries will struggle once recreational shops eventually open.”
Allen, 61, says he is done with cannabis. “This has been five years of an emotional roller coaster ride. I’m numb right now. I don’t have any fight left in me. I’m thinking I’m going to buy a cabinet shop and make cabinets.” He says he will sell his old dispensary building.
Vista must issue its 11 licenses to its new medical marijuana vendors by February 22. All applicants had to post a refundable $100,000 bond and pay a non-refundable $10,000 application fee.