The Embarc South Lake Tahoe location, by Brian Walker / Brian Walker Photography
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Fresno’s cannabis dispensary scene is coming alive, with the first storefronts opening next week.
Following The Artist Tree’s Monday soft launch will be Embarc’s July 13 debut at Blackstone and Gettysburg avenues in a former T-Mobile location.
Founded in the Bay Area in 2020, Embarc, co-owned by Lauren and Dustin Carpenter, hopes to bring a community feel to the local medicinal and recreational marijuana industry.
“What I love about Fresno is that despite it being a massive city, in some ways it also feels a lot like a small town,” said Lauren. “I love that. That’s the type of community that I think Embarc’s community-centric model can shine.”
The Fresno location will be Embarc’s fifth store, with existing locations in Alameda, Fairfield, Martinez and South Lake Tahoe. The Fresno location is the farthest south the company has expanded.
Fresno resident Steve Hosey is listed as the local partner in the project in application documents. He is a former San Francisco Giants baseball player and is a small business owner.
Along the way to opening, Lauren said there have been regulatory challenges — common as communities settle into the comfort zone of licensing marijuana dispensaries.
“It’s the most overused phrase you’ll hear in this industry: the plane is being built in midair,” Lauren said. “It requires a lot of collaboration with local government and with regulators and with law enforcement in order to, in some cases, get that plane off the ground and then make sure it has enough parts to safely get to its destination.”
Lauren’s husband and Embarc co-owner Dustin Carpenter has experience in the cannabis industry from a personal standpoint as well as the most recent legalization effort.
“His father had very experimental surgery, was ultimately hospitalized for a year, but survived,” Lauren explained, adding that anti-seizure medication caused personality changes. Dustin’s father ultimately turned to marijuana, and faced consequences. “I think for him growing up, cannabis was a medicine — this really powerful plant — but also an issue of right and wrong.”
Prior to the passage of Proposition 624 in 1996, all uses of cannabis, whether recreational or medicinal, were illegal. Dustin assisted in the recreational use measure Proposition 64 in 2016, acting as the day-to-day campaign manager.
“Dating him during that experience, I sort of got an inside look at the more than 500 stakeholders at the table during that process,” Lauren said. “I saw this as an industry that was really stepping into a new era, stepping out of the shadows a bit and into the light.”
As one of Fresno’s first dispensaries, Embarc focuses both on medicinal and recreational use, and the team hopes to help break stereotypes often associated with cannabis users.
“The cannabis consumer will break any stereotype; they don’t fall into this cast of characters that society has told us that they are,” Lauren said. “It’s the 74-year-old grandpa coming in who’s looking for something fun, and it’s the 34-year-old woman who’s coming in looking for something for sleep, and not the other way around much of the time.”
Staff members will be well versed to thoroughly and thoughtfully explain the potential effects and benefits of cannabis use.
“We want to be a place where someone ravaged by the impacts of chemotherapy can come and find very targeted and focused products that provide relief,” Lauren said.
Embarc looks to feature major brands common in the cannabis industry as well as local and independent growers, hoping to support the regional industry.
Lauren compares the “farm to table” analogy that many Valley residents use in the cannabis industry.
“We really try to use our shelf space as what I would say is a demonstration of our values,” she said. “I’m also really proud of the prioritization and emphasis we put on connecting consumers to the brands that they may not have heard of, that they may not be exposed to, but I think where they can take a lot of pride both in what they’re consuming and the farmer they’re supporting.”
For the time being, Embarc will operate solely out of their storefront at 4592 N. Blackstone in Fresno, but hopes to eventually branch out into delivery and online ordering systems as well. They also have a loyalty program for members to join, allowing customers to save on products.
Embarc hopes to focus their in-store shelf space to feature small brands and legacy farm brands as well as women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned growers.