The Seabreeze Tavern in Rio del Mar lost its liquor license June 30. Owner Rich McInnis hopes to transition the venue into a hemp bar. (Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz Sentinel)

When bar business dries up, owner plans to serve up hemp drinks instead

RIO DEL MAR, Calif. — The Seabreeze Tavern officially ran dry June 30 as a suspension levied by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control began.

The loss of the Santa Cruz County watering hole’s liquor license is the result of an 11-count complaint, which includes failing to operate a bona fide eating place, denying the ABC access to financial records, selling medical marijuana without authorization, forging fake medical marijuana cards and buying alcohol from retail establishments such as Safeway and BevMo instead of commercial distributors.

It’s the latest in a series of setbacks to owner Rich McInnis, who also ran a failed campaign for Santa Cruz County supervisor in June. Yet the longtime business owner remains optimistic about the transition and even sees the loss of his liquor license as an opportunity.

McInnis said his attitude toward alcohol has changed since watching two friends and mentors die from alcohol-related diseases after running bars for nearly a decade.

“After running a bar for almost nine years and seeing all the negative things that go along with it, I guess I feel lucky to still be alive,” McInnis said.

As a result, McInnis said he hopes to transition the Seabreeze Tavern from a bar that serves alcohol to a bar that serves hot and cold drinks infused with hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD), which is a nonpsychoactive derivative thought to have numerous health benefits.

“CBD is from the hemp plant, which contains no tetrahydrocannabinol so it’s not psychoactive and has no negative side affects — so no medical marijuana card is required,” McInnis said.

In the short term, the Seabreeze Tavern will begin hosting alcohol-free events such as an all-ages professional wrestling show this Sunday.

As for the allegations, McInnis adamantly refuted forging medical marijuana cards and said the alcohol purchased from retail establishments was for personal consumption and not for sale at the bar. He also said the ABC confiscated all of his records.

“At the time the ABC raided my business and residence, they found and took my business receipts as well, so I am not sure what other records they want to inspect.”

In the end, the future of the Seabreeze Tavern may be determined by the results of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act vote in November, which could legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California.

“It’s too bad California voters didn’t approve Proposition 19 in 2010, because the Seabreeze is really a recreational marijuana location stuck in a medical marijuana world,” McInnis said. “But come this November, when California voters finally pass a proposition legalizing adult marijuana use and possession for all adults, we will celebrate the victory with a huge smoke-out on the patio next to the Seabreeze Hemp Bar.”

John Carr of the ABC said McInnis has one year to sell his liquor license to someone other than a blood relative.

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