Driving on Main Street in Santa Ana, you’ll see everything from grocery stores to paint-chipped dive bars to auto loan offices with sun-bleached windows layered in dust. But now, for the first time in OC history, you’ll see two brand new billboards on the left hand side as you head toward the 55 Fwy— all of them are less than a mile away from each other— advertising Santa Ana’s newest dispensary, OC3.
The billboards are massive and it's impossible not to notice the caps locked letters that scream “BUY MARIJUANA LEGALLY TURN LEFT ON ALTON AVE.” If you exit on Alton into this industrial area of the city, you'll notice that most of the buildings lack any identification at all—minus the tan building on the right side with the massive address that reads “420.” Don’t be mistaken by this establishment, however. Despite being marked with universal stoner code, it is not OC3 (Yes, I found out first hand, and the employee I spoke to said it happens often).
Instead, the mystical OC3 lies about three-quarters of the way down Alton. The gray building lined with bright orange markings is the stand out of the industrial area. Upon first glance it’s easily mistaken for a bar. But its seclusion and luminous orange sign that reads “OC3 Dispensary” at the entrance make it a dead give away.
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After filling out a small amount of new client paperwork, I was granted entrance into the bud room. The dim lights contrasted with the radiantly lit display cases, refrigerator full of THC and CBD infused beverages and the glowing menus mounted on the wall behind the counter made the dispensary feel like a mix between a bar and a gallery. In some respects, it's rather mind blowing to walk into a dispensary and feel like you're in some sort of trendy yet warped showroom bar. It's a fascinating indication as to what storefronts are going to look like in the future. On the other hand, although the shadow-y lights add mood to the ambience of OC3, there's something to be said for a fully lit dispensary that adds a level of comfort to the patient experience.
A budtender who introduced himself as Ryan guided me toward the right side of the display case—which had upwards of 14+ big mason jars full of green crystalline nugs—while giving me the low down on the top shelf sleepy indicas, creative sativas and educated me on what I can use CBD dominant marijuana for. On the other side of the display case were jars of pre-rolled joints, neatly lined rows of Kiva chocolates, edibles and prepackaged eighths. Ryan's knowledge and conversational demeanor made it easy to trust his recommendations. He also informed me about the new patient deal, which either adds a free gram of marijuana and a pre-rolled joint with purchases over $60, or one pre-rolled joint for purchases under $60.
Marijuana's transformation in Orange County from something completely illegal and only available via the black market, into a product boldly advertised on freeway billboards, is historic. This is the first time such marketing exists. In fact, even at Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' anti-pot conference several weeks back, Dr. Al Mijares, OC's Superintendent of Schools stated, "Never in my life time did I think I'd see billboards advertising legal marijuana." Needless to say, whether you're for it or against it, there's a certain shock factor that plays into seeing such blatant advertisements for legal marijuana. Santa Ana has thus become the leader in terms of legalization, despite the hiccups that have happened along the way.
As one would expect with a city-approved dispensary subject to inspections rather than police raids, the clinic is clean, simple and well kept.. "The cops just recently came in," said Katie, the woman who manages the front desk in the waiting room. "And they don't come in wearing their uniform, they come in wearing their regular clothes," she said. "But we've had no problems—we've passed all of our inspections."