The question of whether the first legal cannabis shop should open in the northwest Fresno neighborhood of Pinedale is dividing residents.
A Pinedale community leader and Clovis Unified School District have authored letters opposing the location even though the business meets the city’s strict regulations for cannabis shops.
Undeterred, opponents say they are concerned about safety, parking, and the site’s proximity to Pinedale Elementary School. They also say that the shop would reinforce the community’s undeserved reputation for drug use.
“It’s literally next door to a residential community,” said Linda Amparano, who is an organizer for the community group Pinedale Matters. “There’s no barrier between the dispensary and the community. It’s literally right next door to a home, a family home that has three children in it.”
But another Pinedale community leader says that the operators of the Embarc cannabis shop have worked hard to engage with the neighborhood. The store, she says, would actually increase safety.
“After researching and getting to know Embarc and their leadership team, I feel Embarc would be a positive business leader that will benefit our community,” said Lisa Guzman, owner of National Hardware in Pinedale and organizer for the Pinedale Community Association.
Guzman and other Pinedale residents actively objected to a previously proposed dispensary in Pinedale. That shop was shot down by Fresno City Council in October 2021.
Embarc already has a cannabis dispensary at Blackstone and Gettysburg avenues. It wants to open in Pinedale at 7363 N. Blackstone Ave. by the end of the year. The Conditional Use Permit required to open had been approved. But an appeal has sent the company back to the Fresno Planning Commission, which will consider the permit on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
Community members and business owners on both sides of the debate say they will attend the meeting.
Opponents Don’t Like the Location
Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter says she has walked Pinedale and explained to hundreds of residents how the shop would be safe, increase neighborhood security, and decrease illegal marijuana sales. Still, Amparano and others remain unconvinced that the store would be beneficial.
Some children walk past the location going to bus stops, Amparano said. Because the shop would be next door to a pizzeria, a taco shop, and a donut shop, Amparano also worries children will walk past the business when getting food.
Amparano also objects to the distance between the dispensary and nearby Pinedale Elementary. While Embarc is planned outside the city’s required 800-foot distance from the school by more than 200 feet, Amparano says it goes against the “spirit of the law.” Limited parking near the dispensary will also spill out into the neighborhood, she said.
Kelly Avants, chief communications officer for CUSD, said the district also objected to safety issues the dispensary would bring being so close to Pinedale Elementary.
“The objection we have is regarding the location of the dispensary being so close to a school site and the traffic that it would bring,” Avants said.
Embarc CEO: Presence Decreases Open Drug Use, Brings Safety. Some Residents Agree.
Guzman, the hardware store owner, said Embarc and its location — 200 feet farther from Pinedale Elementary than the other company’s proposed site — would bring needed commerce and security to the area.
After speaking with families, Carpenter said she was told that many don’t visit the pizza restaurant near the Embarc anymore because of a vagrancy issue.
Under Embarc’s security plan, the shop would have active armed guards at all times of the day. Carpenter said that businesses like theirs create an “inhospitable environment for vagrancy.”
When they moved into their Gettysburg location, Carpenter said drug use had been evident throughout the former T-Mobile parking lot. They have since cleaned it up with daily sweeps.
“If you spend any time outside our location, you’ll notice there’s really nobody that’s loitering around,” Carpenter said.
Children also wouldn’t be allowed inside the building. For those walking nearby, the nondescript building wouldn’t look like much, she said.
Because Embarc worked to meet federal banking regulations, it can accept credit and debit payments — something not all dispensaries are allowed to do. This reduces the amount of cash kept at the store, Carpenter said.
Carpenter also noted that legal cannabis is “hyper-regulated and highly secure.”
What Does Dispensary Do to Pinedale Image?
Amparano said she started the Pinedale Community Association before stepping back in the 90s. After coming back, it was the support of Embarc from some members that caused a split in the group. She then started Pinedale Matters, she said.
The group has held protests as well as a candlelight vigil.
She worries the dispensary will solidify the unjustified image of Pinedale as a place where many people use or sell drugs.
Carpenter counters that cannabis users have been unfairly stigmatized. The average customer is 40 years old, Carpenter said.
In addition, Embarc’s required community plan addresses drug use in children.
Carpenter said at each of their eight stores, a foundation run by community members partners with a nonprofit to create a drug prevention curriculum, funded by 1% of that store’s profits.
The Gettysburg location’s nonprofit partner hasn’t been selected yet, but in six months of operation, funding reached “six figures,” Carpenter said. The foundation in South Lake Tahoe partnered with the local Boys and Girls Club.
Carpenter said the Embarc project has been fully compliant, exceeding standards laid out by the city. She said appeals are a natural part of the process and a “broad base of community support” will get them approval.
“I think the narrative or the notion that the Pinedale community is not supportive of this or open-minded about cannabis simply is not accurate,” Carpenter said.