On medical marijuana dispensaries, supervisors are masters of weakness

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comMarch 17, 2012 

Here’s something I’d like to see, but never will: I’d like to see San Luis Obispo County supervisors stand up at a public meeting and say, in unison like a Greek chorus, “We have an announcement to make about medical marijuana dispensaries.”

“If you would like to put one in this county, forget it.

“It ain’t gonna happen. No way, no how, no chance, nada, fuhgeddabout it.

“Here’s the reason: Politically, it’s a scorching potato and we aren’t going to touch it and get blisters, especially when we’re running for re-election.”

Tragedy and comedy

OK, as Greek choruses go, Aristophanes did it better. But you take my point. When supervisors shot down a proposed dispensary in Oceano this month — the third time they have done so in this clinic-less county — they gave a variety of reasons.

But it was clear from the outset that the fix was in. None of them was going to vote for the proposal because the prevailing political climate in this nation and this county is stuck in 1937, when the flick “Reefer Madness” was making the rounds, persuading everyone that marijuana is the devil’s weed.

Never mind that medical marijuana dispensaries are designed to help suffering people suffer less. I’ve spoken to folks who use marijuana medicinally, and their stories are heartbreaking — trying to endure through relentless pain and, in some cases, in the hovering presence of death.

Why anyone would deny them comfort is beyond me. There is something heartless, even callous, about it.

It is true that such dispensaries could be and have been abused. But that is why the planning process supposedly is in place — to head off those problems and make sure the clinic is safe and lawful.

A pot odyssey

If you want to read a tale of woe and frustration about this particular doomed dispensary, however, check out Tammy Murray’s Viewpoint published Tuesday. It is an epic saga of Murray’s struggle to bring the cannabis clinic to Oceano, in the proper way.

Murray runs a successful similar operation in the Central Valley, and she began her efforts here a year ago.

She spoke with real estate agents, planners, neighbors, local government, all five county supervisors. She jumped through all the hoops, or so she thought.

She received approval from the Planning Commission. But then an Oceano resident appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

Watching the supervisors’ hearing was an exercise in restraint. These guys stretched the definition of “mealy-mouthed” to new dimensions.

They all were “greatly conflicted,” as Adam Hill, doing his best Hamlet “to be or not to be” interpretation, put it. “It truly pains me” to oppose the dispensary, said Bruce Gibson, agonizing like Abraham about to polish off Isaac.

After seemingly endless squirming of this nature, all five voted against it. But it wasn’t because they opposed the use of marijuana as medicine, oh my heavens no. They had no problem with that concept.

Location, location

And it wasn’t because of Murray. They fell all over themselves and each other praising her presentation.

“It is the best we’ve seen,” said Jim Patterson. “You’ve done a dynamite job,” gushed Frank Mecham.

Instead, supervisors rattled off supposed concerns about location, distance from a park, and the character of the neighborhood.

Never mind that all those arguments were in dispute. Some Oceano residents had no problem with the dispensary. The definition of “distance from a park” changed during the planning process, in a way that harmed Murray’s attempts.

And as to the location, well, it is either, as some said, a place where children congregate (no doubt to be seduced into a life of drugs and crime if the dispensary were to move in), or it is a dangerous, “dark” and “spooky” place that attracts “nondesirables,” as Paul Teixeira said.

The Oceano woman whose opposition brought the dispensary to the Board of Supervisors and ultimately killed it, Barbara Mann, even had the effrontery to say she worried about Murray’s safety. Puh-leeze.

Somewhere a place

In the end, this was one of those government hearings where you recognize that, as someone once said, “zoning is a tool of the special interests.”

There is plenty of ammunition in county planning and building codes and regulations for elected officials to come down on any side of a project. In other words, it can give them cover to make unpalatable decisions.

That is what happened here. From where I sit, their stated reasons for voting against relieving the pain of suffering people were not their actual reasons. They just succumbed to a malady for which medicine has no cure: insufficient strength in the spine.

Supervisors agreed on one other thing. San Luis Obispo County needs a medical marijuana dispensary.

“Someplace else might be good,” Teixeira said, “and we need to look at that.”

Oh, really? I’ll believe that when I see it, after three applicants were sent packing.

I’d love to be proved wrong.

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