Santa Cruz ‘bud and breakfast’ is for the mainstream, too

Amy Ettinger, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Breakfast at the Compassion Flower Inn isn’t always 'mellow.' When Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors, stayed there two weeks ago he argued that the minimum voting age should be raised to 35.

It’s not unusual for guests at the 'bed, bud and breakfast' to debate politics into the early afternoon, but it’s caffeine that fuels the morning conversation.

'Pot isn’t what drives the topics,' says co-owner Andrea Tischler.

The inn on Laurel Street opened four years ago, on 4/20, and its friendly attitude toward medical-marijuana users made front-page news across the country. Tischler and her partner Maria Mallek run the inn with the help of their two children.

'We’re a mom-and-pop operation,' Tischler said. Despite the inn’s hemp mosaics and vast cannabis library, only a small percentage of guests who check in are medical-marijuana users. The majority are vacationers attracted to the downtown location of the gothic revival Victorian, which is listed as a member of the California Bed and Breakfast Association and AAA approved.

The four rooms range in price from $115 to $175; medical marijuana users get a 10 percent discount. Over the past few years, Tischler said she’s learned to balance marketing the inn to a more mainstream clientele while still being an activist for the legalization of marijuana, a cause she’s promoted for nearly 20 years.

Tischler and Mallek helped put Proposition 215 on the state ballot and have stayed true to their activist roots. Their latest efforts include pushing the county Board of Supervisors to adopt guidelines on how much marijuana can be grown by medical-marijuana patients in the county. Current state guidelines call for 8 ounces a year and the recommendations are asking for a considerably larger limit of 6½ pounds per year. Tischler said only those who need the greater dosage will take advantage of the larger limits, if they’re approved. 

'It’s a lot of work for people who don’t have green thumbs,' Tischler said. 'Sick people are not going to grow in excess of what they need.' Tischler also wants to push for a new city ordinance for dispensaries and co-ops in town.

Recent court decisions have improved the climate surrounding the medical-marijuana issue. In April, a federal judge in San Jose issued a preliminary injunction banning the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from interfering with the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the 250-member local co-op.

Tischler said the estimated 3,000 medical marijuana patients who live in the county should be allowed greater access to cannabis. But working 18-hour days limits how much Tischler can push for the cause. After a slow year for the inn last year, business has picked up again and Tischler expects a packed summer season.

The strategy of catering to a wide range of clients seems to be working for the inn. In fact, many who stay at the inn don’t even know it’s pot-friendly politics until after they check in.

Doug Cutrell of San Francisco stayed at the Compassion Flower Inn last week. He said when he booked a room he had no idea the place was a pot-friendly establishment. Cutrell learned more about medical marijuana from his visit.

'I got a better sense of the larger community of people for who it’s an issue,' said Cutrell. 'I don’t usually think of it so much as such a broad spectrum — people who have cancer or Hodgkin’s disease, where they find it helpful.'

John Dennis of Ithaca, N.Y., visited the inn last month. There isn’t anything like the Compassion Flower Inn back home. Dennis said he enjoyed his stay at the inn and mostly talked with fellow guests about the shared passion of renovating old homes.

'I had so much in common with them,' said Dennis.