Ventura County

An exclusive look at Port Hueneme's so-called "Green Mile"

Exclusive look at the socalled Green Mile in Port Hueneme

PORT HUENEME, Calif. - If you asked the founders of Port Hueneme if the city known for its port, Navy base and beaches would one day be known for pot shops -- they might think you were high.

And you won’t get an argument from the police chief.

“We actually encourage people to come and visit a dispensary to walk and see what it’s like," said Port Hueneme Police Chief Andrew Salinas.

They don’t need much encouragement; 34,000 customers have been spending money in the city’s pot shops each month -- more people than Port Hueneme’s entire population.

Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, is one of the most famous visitors.

There is a dispensary in almost every strip mall and that is why they call it the "Green Mile" and it actually is a mile long.

“It starts at the Wheelhouse and finishes at Ventura Rd.," said Salinas. "The distance is exactly 5,280 feet."

The closest cities with cannabis dispensaries to the "green mile" are an hour's drive away north to Santa Barbara or south to the San Fernando Valley.

"What do you think of the green mile?" reporter Tracy Lehr asked one woman.

"I love it," said Oxnard resident Alysia Rodriquez. "There are a lot of different shops and they all have  great deals always."  She suggested people try it.  

When the Wheelhouse opened, the dispensary hosted a street fair to try to win the community over. It didn’t work on everyone.

"I am against the fact, that it's so, they are one after the other, it is so close together. At certain times of the day it is very dense they may not be shopping in the shopping centers or eating at the restaurants or anything, I think they come in they get their stuff and they leave." said Port Hueneme resident Gerry Moreno.

The police chief changed minds on the city council with a myth busting power point presentation. His graphics show how cannabis shops, at least so far, are not a hotbed of criminal activity.

“They’re safe, they’re clean, and they are licensed, and they are legal," Salinas said.

And they have rules to follow. One example is surveillance: within ten seconds Chief Salinas has access to that video in real time on his cellphone.

“I can see they have security," Salinas said. "I can see that their employees are wearing their uniforms. I can see what is going on in their lobby, that is the check-in area. I can see they are doing business as they are required to do here in the City of Port Hueneme."

The first six pot shops earn about $3 million in cash a month and two more are in the works. Taxes are being kept lower than other cities to compete with them and the black market

"Five percent sales tax, one percent community contribution, which is still vastly lower," Salinas said.

When the city had a deficit, those pot taxes made up the difference.

“Two years ago we had a $1 million budget deficit that has now been filled," Salinas said.

When a regional homeless shelter in Oxnard needed beds, pot taxes kicked in.

“First thought was, this is an awesome opportunity to help a lot of people," said Mark Tatum, co-founder of Skunkmasters.

“This is awesome," said Michael Moyer, who is homeless. "This is a gift that nobody dreamed of. It is going to make people a lot more comfortable.”

Pot shops paid for them.

When the Channel Islands Harbor Fourth of July fireworks show fell short on funds, pot shops pitched in $30,000.

“So in essence, cannabis saved the Fourth of July this year," Salinas said.

The chief of police visits the "Green Mile" often and says his badge doesn’t faze anyone.

To get past security guards and lobbies you must be 21 and show an I-D.

"We can scan it right here, and I am able to check you in," said an employee.

Only one customer is allowed per sales associate.

“Here is a 90-year-old lady with her caretaker and her walker," Salinas said, pointing to surveillance video.

A majority of customers are older than 30; 14 percent are older than 60. The associates making sales are called "bud tenders" which sounds a bit like bartenders. They're experts on different types of cannabis, just like a wine expert in a tasting room.

"That is what chocolate orange is," said one employee.

Five of the six dispensaries in operation are family owned. Safeport is one of them.

“We had no idea what to expect,and we are really happy how it turned out," said Nicole Jarvis, employee and daughter of Safeport owners.

"This is very much like a boutique, it is like a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf," Salinas said.

Samples are sealed since persistent odors can lead to closures.

But smell is only part of the reason someone buys a specific type.

"People pretty much come in and buy based on THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)," Jarvis said.

Customers with prescriptions get a discount.

“It helped with my scattered brain, that anxiousness," said Stephanie Ortiz of Ventura. "I am someone who does yoga and Reiki and still need that little extra."

Dispensaries sell more than marijuana: there are c-b-d (Cannabidiol) products for acne, pain and libido.

"This is a personal lubricant that is cannabis infused," said William Elks, a "bud tender."

 Customers can buy pot plants, but growing your own isn’t easy.

"Growing your own is a hassle," Elkins said.

ATM's are on hand since credit cards are not taken; after all, cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

The Chief takes novelty items, like pipes shaped like donuts, in stride. He understands they are part of the business.

He even posed for a photo -- shops can't advertise sales, but they have a photo booth used for social media.

For the record, Chief Salinas doesn’t smoke pot.

"I can’t because I am a police officer and back in the early '90s that was one of the top questions," Salinas said. "If you ever did cannabis you weren’t going to get hired."

He has heard Port Hueneme is now called “Pot Hueneme” and hopes it is in a good-natured way.

"We know that we are riding a wave right now," Salinas said. "We know it is only here for a limited amount of time."

Oxnard and Ventura leaders are coming around asking questions; they could have their own "Green Miles" down the road.


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