The county’s first licensed cannabis lounge, and the only one south of Los Angeles, will open next year near the waterfront in National City.
Pearl and Alex Ayon won unanimous approval Tuesday from the City Council to operate Sessions by the Bay at a 13,000-square-foot building leased from the Sycuan Tribal Development Council, a partner in the venture.
The two-story structure, the former site of California College San Diego’s National City campus, will have a dispensary and lounge where patrons can buy marijuana products and consume them on-site.
Competition is building up around the county, with about 60 licensed dispensaries already in operation. Cities are collecting $28.9 million annually from their municipal cannabis taxes, according to an April county consultant report.
National City sees the consumption lounge as a way to curb the illicit market and offer a regulated space, as well as a new revenue stream to boost the local economy.
The San Diego couple was the sole consumption lounge applicant. They previously owned two dispensaries in San Diego and La Mesa and operate another one in Lone Pine.
They said their collaboration with the tribe, Sessions Ventures LLC, could yield other benefits. The facility is neighbors with Kimball Coastal Eatery, which Sycuan operates.
“They believed in what we were proposing and decided to lease (the area) to us,” said Alex Ayon. “There’s going to be a lot of synergy between us. We’re talking about working with them to provide food for our customers because we’re not going to have a kitchen.”
Similar to a bar that serves those 21 and older, patrons will be allowed to order flowers, edibles and other cannabis products from the lounge menu. They will also be allowed to bring food from Kimball or from food trucks Sessions plans to have on-site. The lounge itself is envisioned to be “an immersive experience” with a heavy music and art component, said Alex Ayon. Consumption will be permitted between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Some raised concerns that because the lounge will be the only one south of West Hollywood, where the nation’s first marijuana café opened, Sessions would be overwhelmed with patrons.
“Well, that’s a good problem to have,” said Alex Ayon. The site was carefully selected, he said, to accommodate large volumes; it’s in a tourist commercial zone away from schools and homes and it has 130 parking spaces.
Resident Becky Rapp said National City should not have rushed to become the first in the region to allow a consumption lounge.
“Consumption lounges are a new concept that has not been thoroughly vetted,” she said. “Nor do we fully understand the negative ramifications.”
Consumption lounges are the next big thing in the legal cannabis market and they’re expected to pick up momentum, according to industry experts, but several factors have hindered their takeoff, including the pandemic and rigorous permitting procedures.
Lounges have far more restrictions than other types of marijuana businesses, said Alex Ayon. Sessions will have a safety plan that includes patrons signing a form acknowledging the lounge’s rules and regulations, offering shuttle services and having security and a rideshare drop-off site in front of the shop.
The city also issued its own list of conditions: adding visible signs asking patrons to respect adjacent neighborhoods, making sure odors generated by the business are not detectible outside the premises, hiring at least one, unarmed security guard and that all cannabis waste is properly disposed of.
Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis cautioned Sessions’ owners.
“We set the bar for what we want for our community and that means they’re gonna have all eyes on you … and you best be held to the highest of standards,” she said. “And I’m not talking about product. I’m talking about your behavior and the behavior of your clients as well.”
Council members also approved permits for Shryne National City, or STIIIZY, and Off The Charts to open retail storefronts in industrial zones on 3239 Hoover Ave. and 900 Civic Center Drive, respectively.
All three businesses agreed to a list of conditions. Among them is a 5 percent contribution of gross receipts to the city’s general fund. Each business could generate about $500,000 in annual sales revenue for National City, said Pedro Garcia, the city’s economic development manager who is overseeing cannabis permitting.
Businesses must also organize community cleanup events and two drug prevention seminars per year. Their workforces must also be composed of 30 percent local hires and 20 percent people who had been convicted of cannabis misdemeanors. (Full Story)