catalyst cannabis
Alysa Watkins helps a customer with sales at the Catalyst Cannabis retail shop on West Beach Street in Watsonville soon after the store opened in 2023. Photo: Tarmo Hannula

After a contentious meeting on Tuesday, a divided Watsonville City Council approved in concept several amendments to its retail cannabis ordinances, a move intended to ease the regulatory burden for a burgeoning industry already beleaguered by local, state and federal regulations.

City officials say the changes bring the rules in line with state regulations, and with other nearby jurisdictions.

The council will consider the proposed changes for a second read and final approval at an upcoming meeting.

The amendments include allowing larger signs, limiting background checks to only business owners and expanding the places the businesses can exist within the city.

The changes would also ease the annual renewal process for existing cannabis businesses, eliminate the requirement for employees to have police-issued ID badges and allow them to expand their hours of operation.

While the council members appeared amenable to some of the changes, it was the amendments to safety protocols that troubled many of them.

Most notably, this was ending the requirement for 24-hour on-site security for dispensaries, and allowing them to use digital surveillance. 

Councilwoman Kristal Salcido pointed to a robbery that occurred May 25 at The Hook dispensary on Hangar Way.

During that incident, 12 armed suspects used a stolen vehicle to smash inside, stole an undisclosed amount of cannabis products and led police from several agencies on a chase that ended in Hayward without an arrest.

“It is unacceptable, this level of risk we are bringing into our community,” Salcido said.  “I am not willing to risk an officer dying for marijuana.”

Salcido also questioned ending annual background checks for all employees.

“I am extremely concerned that we are saying, ‘no more background checks that are yearly done by Live Scan,’” she said.

That service, she added, checks for felonies and federal crimes, and could reduce the risk of “inside jobs” by employees.

Mayor Pro-Tem Maria Orozco asked for more time to discuss the issue, and said she would have voted yes on  changing the signage and extended hours.

“I don’t feel ready to vote on this tonight,” she said.

Councilman Jimmy Dutra agreed, and said that issues involving public health and safety warrant further discussion.

But Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter said that those issues have already been addressed.

“I think [the changes] are all very reasonable when we’re looking at the scope of what the council has identified as their top priorities,” she said. “And we identified economic development as our top priority, and this seems to be in line with that desire.”

Quiroz-Carter added that the cannabis industry is already highly regulated, and said that Watsonville was late in tapping into the market after balking when recreational cannabis was approved in 2016.

“We are way behind as usual because we get in our own way and we make things too difficult, and people don’t want to come here and they don’t want to do business in Watsonville because we have all these silly rules that are way way too extreme that are more extreme than the state,” she said. 

A small handful of people addressed the council during public comment.

Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance Director of Policy Sophia Cuentas warned against changing the zoning, and the “normalization” of cannabis among young people, and said the organization is seeing increased marijuana use by young people.

“Our referrals have tripled over the past three years, not only for community education, but for intervention services,” she said. 

Watsonville Police Chief Jorge Zamora asked the council to “slow things down for a bit” in the discussion.

“Because what we are experiencing in law enforcement when it comes to these things is that you have highly motivated, violent people breaking into these places, usually at night and taking the money and cannabis,” he said. 

Zamora said that there were four dispensary robberies last year, and three so far this year. 

Jon Kolodinski, who owns Catalyst Cannabis in Watsonville, said that connecting cannabis businesses to violent crime is unfair.

“It’s amazing to me at this point in time that we’re having to blame the victims,” he said.  “We have paid hundreds of thousands in taxes and fees to be able to participate in the community.”



A closer look

• Zoning changes

Changing the zoning would allow businesses on Freedom Boulevard, East Lake Avenue and two sections of Main Street.

• Would allow up to two square feet per linear foot of the building’s frontage, with a maximum cap of 300 square feet. 

• remove requirements for 24-hour on-site security, and keep the requirement for a security system.

• Modify the cannabis annual renewal process to allow for streamlining, and ease the onerous 17-part renewal  process that included employee background checks, deed checks and a review of the owners’ licenses. 

• Eliminate the requirement for most annual ID badges

• Allow an open application period of non-retail cannabis permits. 

• Increase the operating hours for cannabis retail to 8am—10pm with the last delivery scheduled at 9:30pm.

• Limit background checks to business owners only.

• Ease distance restrictions to only schools, with a 600-foot buffer requirement. The rules previously also applied to residential uses, faith-based facilities, licensed daycares, preschools and libraries.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


  1. Wasn’t there an armed robbery of a dispensary recently? Was there not a high speed chase?
    Have there not been recurring robberies of dispensaries in Santa Cruz. All of these risking residents and property? If the chief of police has reservations shouldn’t that be an indication of a dangerous situation to his officers and residents?
    I worry about my tenants safety. I’m glad I don’t live in Watsonville anymore
    Lots of luck to you guys!

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