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Editor’s Note: This story is part of Good Times’ annual Santa Cruz Visitors Guide 2019. Read the full publication here.

When it comes to cannabis, West Cliff Wellness CEO Tyler Smith is a man ahead of the times. Although West Cliff Wellness just opened April, Smith says he envisioned a dispensary in the old Mr. Tile shop on Fair Avenue for more than five years. 

“When they put in New Leaf, a long time ago, it changed the neighborhood in a sense, because it used to be every building was an old industrial warehouse,” Smith says. “Then Kelly’s Bakery got remodeled and everything started getting upgraded in the neighborhood. I was always serious about putting a dispensary in here.” 

Eventually Smith’s time came when the city released their “green zone” map of approved dispensary locations, and the Mr. Tile block was on it. “That was almost two years ago,” he says. “It took us 15 months to get open between the renovations and licensing and such. We jumped through a lot of hoops to get here.” 

With an open floor plan and visible growing area, West Cliff Wellness is about as forthright as dispensaries get. 

“We wanted to create a vibe that changed with the times of Prop 64. There are still security requirements, but we are trying to do that in the least abrasive way possible,” Smith says. “Most of our customers are new to cannabis in general, so we want people to be able to take their time shopping, and browse around instead of being in line and having to rush. It’s a regular shopping experience.” 

The city’s newest dispensary comes at a time when the business of cannabis has exploded in Santa Cruz, and local dispensaries are thriving. In January, Santa Cruz Naturals opened a second location in Watsonville—the first dispensary ever in the Pajaro Valley. In April, KindPeoples opened a second location—a sleek, modern retail space on Ocean Street—aimed at pushing the nascent cannabis tourism industry forward locally. (See page 104 for a complete list of dispensaries.)

West Cliff Wellness has a few owners, all of whom where born and raised in Santa Cruz and still live locally.  “We are like the opposite of corporate cannabis,” he says. Smith also co-owns 3 Bros Grow, a popular local cultivation brand based out of Moss Landing, with his brother and another business partner. But for West Cliff Wellness, he brought in a couple of other team players, including Dana and Bubb Rader of Berdels clothing store in downtown Santa Cruz. 

“I figured we had a micro business opportunity which encompases a lot of different licences in one between cultivation, retail, delivery, distribution, and manufacturing,” Smith says. “So I wanted to get different people that could help on each avenue.”

When opening day arrived, Smith says word spread the the owners of 3 Bros Grow had opened a dispensary in their hometown, which attracted a lot of people. It’s unsurprising then, that 3 Bros Grow products are some of the bestsellers in the store. Alongside their products, the owners chose their products intentionally, trying to sell the local products they like. 

Smith says in the long run, he hopes to have a consumption lounge for people to come by and try out products. While California currently allows on-site consumption lounges, Santa Cruz County and city do not. San Francisco and Oakland allow cannabis consumption cafés and lounges, but Santa Cruz hasn’t quite caught up—unfortunate news for those looking to try before they buy. But Smith says he is hopeful about consumption permitting in Santa Cruz, predicting that it’s only a matter of time before cannabis consumption is everywhere. 

“It’s been really cool to see people from all ages and backgrounds come in,” he says. “This has been a dream, and we’ve gotten great feedback from the community, and the community has come together to support us. It’s nice to see a group like ours get an opportunity to do this.”

West Cliff Wellness, 1100 Fair Ave. Unit B, Santa Cruz.