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Costa Mesa’s first legal pot shop opens, more than 2 years after passage of Measure Q

Owner Robert Taft Jr. stands inside his newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa store on Wednesday in Costa Mesa.
Owner Robert Taft Jr. stands inside his newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa store on Wednesday in Costa Mesa. It is the first shop among 12 approved so far to open since voters approved retail cannabis in 2020.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
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On Election Day 2020, more than 65% of Costa Mesa voters who cast ballots showed their support for Measure Q, allowing the sales and delivery of retail cannabis — and the millions that could generate — into the city’s commercial areas.

City officials, staff and consultants have since been engaged in the enormous undertaking of weeding out already-operating illicit dispensaries, drafting new laws about how marijuana products would be taxed and regulated and reviewing dozens of proposals from would-be proprietors.

More than two years of such planning came to a head last week, as the city’s first legal dispensary opened its doors on Harbor Boulevard in a Black Friday soft opening that, while modest, was attended by council members and even Costa Mesa’s mayor.

Budtenders Tyler Cormack, right, and Bryce Greer help a customer Wednesday at the newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa.
Budtenders Tyler Cormack, right, and Bryce Greer help a customer Wednesday at the newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Operating from a 2,446-square-foot storefront at 1990 Harbor Blvd., 420 Central Newport Mesa offers prepackaged cannabis and cannabis products, from edible goods and tinctures to transdermal patches and concentrates.

Owner Robert Taft Jr. said he and his business partners have been in a mad dash since the city’s Planning Commission approved a use permit in June to get the place up and running before any of the other 10 or more approved dispensaries had opened their doors.

While other proprietors waited for permits to be granted, Taft bought a building and built it out according to state specifications, making tenant improvements during the application’s review period.

Robert Taft Jr stands outside 420 Central Newport Mesa dispensary in Costa Mesa.
Robert Taft Jr stands outside 420 Central Newport Mesa dispensary. He and business partners bought the building and built it out ahead of the permit process to expedite its opening, Taft said Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“We wanted to be first,” the Costa Mesa resident said Wednesday during a visit to the store. “With our belief and faith in what we were doing — we basically went for it.”

This isn’t Taft’s first rodeo. He’s operated another legal dispensary in Santa Ana for seven years and has had a hand in Costa Mesa’s cannabis future since 2014. That’s when he and others collected enough signatures to put an initiative, Measure V, on the ballot for a special election that would have allowed eight medical marijuana dispensaries to be taxed and regulated inside city limits.

City officials, however, would not call for a special election, and a legal battle over whether a tax-related proposal could even be decided outside a regular election cycle delayed the matter to 2016.

Cannabis edibles by Kiva include chocolate bars and gummies at the newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa store in Costa Mesa.
Cannabis edibles by Kiva include chocolate bars and gummies at the newly opened 420 Central Newport Mesa store in Costa Mesa. The products are manufactured and packaged in Orange County, thanks to the city’s Measure X.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

By then, Taft’s interest had shifted as he saw more promise in backing an alternate cannabis plan — Measure X, which would allow for medical marijuana manufacturing, distribution, testing and processing in an industrial “Green Zone” north of the 405 Freeway.

“The city came to me, at the time it was a conservative council, and they said, ‘We aren’t ready for a dispensary in our city yet, would you be interested in making drugs instead of selling them?’” he recalled. “I said, OK, I’m a Costa Mesa-first guy — I’m going to support my city with Measure X.”

Taft actively threw his weight behind a new campaign, even hiring an airplane to sky-write messages of support for Measure X. It garnered nearly 55% approval as Measure V withered on the vine. Since then, Taft and his partners have opened a manufacturing and distribution company called the Healing Plant and CMX, a distribution facility.

When the city of Santa Ana in 2014 granted the right for 20 medical marijuana collectives to do legal business, Taft won a lottery and one year later opened the first 420 Central, a “megastore” named for its street address, which transitioned to selling recreational products when the city granted that right in 2018.

Both the Santa Ana dispensary and the new one in Costa Mesa are supplied and served by Taft’s Measure X businesses in a vertical model that keeps operations local.

“We’re self-distributing everything,” he said. “We can honestly say the products we make come from Orange County. We have grows in Santa Ana for our products, and we package them here in Costa Mesa.”

In addition to the Harbor Boulevard store, 420 Central in Santa Ana is expanding to fill out its 25,000-square-foot space to include marijuana cultivation and a consumption lounge — both of which have been sanctioned by the city.

Taft also envisions expanding in Costa Mesa and has partnered with another cannabis retailer on a joint effort across Harbor Boulevard from 420 Central Newport Mesa called South Coast Safe Access. While that application recently hit a snag at the planning commission level, owners say they are confident an appeal will be successful.

Meanwhile, the new Costa Mesa dispensary is getting decked out and will soon feature murals of local beach scenes and other coastal effects. A grand-opening celebration is planned for Dec. 16, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will include vendors and special discounts to welcome new customers.

Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens, a supporter of retail cannabis, was among the dispensary’s first customers.

“I think it’s exciting that [dispensaries] are starting to open,” Stephens said Thursday. “As more cannabis businesses open, people will see the positive effects on the city, not just in terms of tax dollars but making shopping centers look nicer and providing 24/7 security with lighting.”

While not providing specific details, Stephens indicated he did make a purchase.

“On the record, I bought some things,” he said. “It’s legal.”

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