In “normal times,” Colin Disheroon and his staff at Santa Cruz Naturals would pull out all the stops to celebrate their 10 years of booming business. Music, food trucks, delectable edibles, and all of the other accoutrements of a major rager. It would be a day—a high old time—to remember.
“This year, because of Covid, Santa Cruz Naturals is not going to be able to do the kind of festivities that we would have otherwise done,” says CEO Disheroon. “We’re protecting the community and our employees from exposure to the pandemic. Next year we’ll be doing a post-Covid celebration that will have an ultra-festive vibe, for sure.”
Prior to taking the helm of one of Santa Cruz’s oldest and most-trusted dispensaries, Disheroon spent a decade working in environmental resource management as an outdoor education teacher. Chronic back issues led to a deep dive into the world of cannabis—a delightful substance he found to be extremely helpful for managing pain and discomfort. He discovered that the plant could help others transform their lives.
“Dispensaries at the time—there were a lot of bad vibes around them. I thought I could do it well. Do it better, with an environmental ethos in mind,” explains Disheroon.
Santa Cruz County began the process of legalizing medical cannabis dispensaries in 2010. Santa Cruz Mountain Naturals, as it was called then, moved quickly, and with backing from county officials and the local Chamber of Commerce, opened its doors to medical patients on May 30, 2011. It was admittedly a “cool time” for the fledgling cannapreneurs, operating out of a small building in Boulder Creek.
“We felt like we were contributing and bringing an important product to the market,” says Disheroon.
He and his team founded their dispensary/collective on the idea that you get the highest quality fruits and vegetables from a farmers market. Just like you can procure the best premium, top-grade cannabis from small local farmers who grow in an ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Cannabis, they held, should be the stark opposite of “Big Ag” or “Big Crop”—local, sustainable, and holistic.
As a “clean green” business, Santa Cruz Naturals sources over 70% of its products from local cannabis growers, artisans, connoisseurs, and small business owners. To reach dispensary shelves, vendors must prove that they practice conscious cultivation, use organic products, reuse and recycle at all times, and constantly work to limit their carbon footprints.
The dispensary is a survivor—the longest-operating original-owner cannabis retailer in the region.
“Right now, there’s a lot of consolidation within the cannabis industry. There is a lot of big-money pressure. Publicly traded companies are buying out the small businesses. And many small local operations are really a part of a big corporate play,” says Disheroon. “There will be challenges for mom and pop companies in the coming years. The consolidation effect.”
Jan. 1 of 2018 was a huge day for Santa Cruz Naturals and the entire cannabis industry—the day cannabis became officially legal in California. Even with new taxes (like the 15% state excise tax) and new laws and regulations to adhere to, the dispensary experienced a spike in deliveries, new sales and overall business.
Today, Santa Cruz Naturals is thriving. In 2019, the shop opened a second retail dispensary (besides its Aptos flagship) on the outskirts of Watsonville. The same year, it threw the first licensed cannabis event in Santa Cruz County, the Power of Flower Festival, at the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds. The large-scale gathering was a tremendous success, featuring a full-day lineup of world-class bands, VIP lounge, dab bar, and over 60 canna and non-canna businesses.
“One half of my college degree was in Latino studies. It prepared me for this moment,” says Disheroon. “I’m stoked that I’ve been able to bring my business into a region of California that has such a strong and beautiful Latinx community. We serve the community. My Watsonville location is almost entirely bilingual.”
The challenges the company has faced over the years have been largely bureaucratic. Securing funding for company improvements and precipitous growth has proved to be a frustrating endeavor, as has obtaining insurance policies that aren’t out-of-this-world expensive. And banking has always been a big headache for all dispensaries.
In the next decade, Disheroon envisions two or three more retail locations in different, underserved parts of California. And assuming that legalization on the federal level happens, he’d be thrilled to see his dispensary’s brands and products carried in other parts of the nation.
“Santa Cruz Naturals is excited and humbled to celebrate its 10th anniversary,” says Kat Weaver, Santa Cruz Naturals’ sales and marketing director, “and looks forward to the next 10 years of serving our community!”
9077 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 831-688-7266; 19 San Juan Road, Royal Oaks, 831-722-2018, santacruzcannabis.com.