Skip to content

Hundreds attend the grand opening of Redwood City's first cannabis dispensary

Embarc is one of six cannabis dispensaries that received permits to operate storefronts in Redwood City, and the store’s launch is the culmination of an over two-year approval process with the city. 
Hundreds of people filed in and out of Embarc during its grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023

Hordes of cannabis enthusiasts—some wearing tie-dye shirts with “Weed makes me happy” written on them—wrapped around the block of Broadway and Walnut streets in Redwood City on Saturday in keen anticipation of the grand opening of Embarc, the first cannabis dispensary on the Peninsula.

Hundreds of people filed in and out of the dispensary, and although Embarc, which is located at 1870 Broadway St., is the first and only cannabis dispensary in Redwood City, it won’t be for long.

Embarc is one of six cannabis dispensaries that received permits to operate storefronts in Redwood City, and the store’s launch is the culmination of an over two-year approval process with the city. 

“I think we chose Redwood City, but Redwood City chose us too. So far, the receptiveness from this community has been incredible,” Lauren Carpenter, Embarc’s CEO said. “Cannabis is obviously still an emerging market and I think the city took a brave step in wanting to be at the forefront of bringing responsible legal cannabis to this community.”

The City has also issued permits to six other storefront retail cannabis businesses: Juva Retail RWC Inc, located at 2301 Broadway St.; Runway Services Inc, at 928 Whipple Ave.; Flor Peninsula at 620 El Camino Real; Element 7 Redwood City at 615 Woodside Rd, Suite 1; and MMD Redwood City Inc at 1764 Broadway. 

As Redwood City struggles to plug a $10-million a-year hole projected for its budget over the next eight years, officials said cannabis dispensaries will generate between $500,000 to $700,000 in revenue to fund city services in their first full year of operation or by the end of 2023. All cannabis businesses must fund a 4% general tax on gross receipts paid directly to the city, in addition to the state’s 15% tax and the City’s near 10% sales tax, city officials said in a statement

However, not all locals are so welcoming. Although Redwood City resident Peg Hall strongly opposes the Whipple Avenue store’s mixed-use location, she said her objections span all cannabis retail fronts. She said the city didn’t survey enough community members. In response, Hall gathered about 94 signatures in a petition against the store’s opening and presented it to the council. 

“The City is counting on the tax dollars and may not be considering a greater outlay of expenses that could easily occur,” Hall said. 

To Hall, externalities may include decreased property values and increased traffic, security risks and public smoking. She is also concerned about the potential effects on recovering addicts and alcoholics, as Hall is also a part of the recovering community. 

“People could be clean, initially see marijuana as being harmless—which is basically how they’re promoting it at this point—and legal and think ‘why not?’” she said. “Any number of these addicts could easily end up going back to harder drugs or alcohol.”

In response to the disapproval, Carpenter asks residents to give them a chance. 

“For folks that have questions or concerns, I would never try and change their mind. Everybody is absolutely entitled to their own perspective and feelings, but what I would ask is that you give us a shot, come down and meet with our team,” she said. “This train was leaving the station, so to speak, and it’s really important that we make sure locals are sitting on that train with us and helping guide its direction.” 

Carpenter hopes that Embarc’s ample community involvement will help assuage residents’ worries. 

Embarc has pledged 1% of gross receipts to a community investment fund, which will be directed by a community advisory board, a group of eight local leaders and stakeholders who will soon announce their participation. 

“What makes [the board] really special is that you have voices from different sections of the community,” Jeri Daines, Embarc’s local franchise owner, said, citing the board’s business, nonprofit and religious leaders, “You’re going to see that the advisory board is diverse and everybody there will bring something to the table.” 

The advisory board will allocate the funds based on where they believe the community needs the most help. Daines and Carpenter anticipate that the board will zero in on funding youth services, education and engagement—but not about cannabis. She said she receives consistent feedback from concerned parents about their children’s exposure to marijuana retail fronts. 

Hall is also concerned about the potential effect on children and would prefer that cannabis retailers open up shop in industrial areas. One of her chief criticisms of the Whipple Avenue retail location is that it neighbors a swim school and the newly proposed mixed-use development project on 1125 Arguello St., which will include a childcare facility. 

“The more often young people see these stores, the more likely they are to be curious and want to try it, especially with gummies, edibles and all sorts of gimmicky stuff,” she said. “Redwood City has outlawed sales of flavored tobacco and vapes. It seems a bit hypocritical to then legalize candy and cookie-like THC products.”

According to the city, security surveillance videos from the cannabis retailers will be provided to the Redwood City Police Department to monitor for possible criminal activity. Cannabis retailers are required to check for identification and are not permitted to sell to individuals under the age of 21, or 18 if they are medical patients. According to the city, retailers are also not allowed to be within 600 feet of schools, childcare facilities, public parks, youth centers, and libraries.

Carpenter believes that bringing leading voices in youth education and drug prevention into the advisory board will help keep the company accountable and transparent. 

“It’s continuously a holistic approach to figuring out ‘How do we come into Redwood City?’” Daines, who is a parent herself, said.

Although the company is in uncharted territories, they said they aim to listen and integrate into the community.

“Cannabis is wellness, and for some people, that’s sleep. For others, it’s something to take the edge off,” Carpenter said. “The reality is that safe tested cannabis is what is provided in legal dispensaries and so I think we need to take responsibility, open these stores and provide a place where folks can come in and ask questions.” 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks