Was there ever any doubt that the Board of Supervisors would deny a permit for a medical marijuana dispensary in Nipomo?
On top of overwhelming opposition from Nipomo’s leaders — as well as from the county Sheriff’s Department — there was the matter of location. The proposed dispensary was 94 feet from a private gymnastics studio. Under some interpretations, that would violate a county regulation requiring a minimum 1,000-foot separation between dispensaries and schools, playgrounds, youth centers and the like.
The only surprise was that the applicant even bothered to take his request to the Board of Supervisors, following rejection by the county Planning Commission.
The question now becomes whether any dispensary would ever win approval in San Luis Obispo County. If the honest answer is no, then why bother to have an enabling ordinance on the books?
It’s a waste of county staff time — not to mention the time and money invested by applicants — to continue to go through the hearing process if county decision makers are philosophically opposed or lack the political will to allow a dispensary in the face of opposition.
Granted, so far, only two proposals for dispensaries in unincorporated areas have made it as far as the Board of Supervisors: the one in Nipomo and another in Templeton, which was also denied.
Following just two test cases, it may be premature to assume that no dispensary will ever be approved in the county. But unless a community is willing to step forward and support such a venture, we doubt that the next proposal will fare any better. So again, why bother?
To be clear, we don’t believe that each and every dispensary application should be rubber stamped, by any means.
But we do hope that each application gets a fair hearing, and isn’t tainted by over-reliance on anecdotal evidence of violent, heinous crimes associated with dispensaries in other cities.
Just because violent crimes have occurred at dispensaries in Los Angeles, for example, doesn’t mean that Nipomo or Templeton or Cambria or Cayucos can expect the same.
The fact that Sheriff Pat Hedges was unable to cite a single study to back up the allegation that marijuana dispensaries are “magnets for crime” — even though his department has been crusading against dispensaries — was disappointing, to say the least.
County supervisors should have the latest statistics at their disposal and should not have to rely on sensational testimony from speakers on either side of the debate.
The fact is, plenty of data is available on crime as it relates to marijuana dispensaries, though much of it is conflicting.
For example, a white paper issued last year by several California law enforcement organizations includes reams of negative experiences from several communities with marijuana dispensaries. The report highlights some of the violent crimes associated with the businesses — as well as other, more mundane problems such as traffic, noise and loitering. It also points to the problems of criminal histories of dispensary employees and illegal sales of marijuana occurring outside the shops, and it repeats often-heard allegations that many customers lack legitimate medical reasons to use the drug.
Yet other studies point out that overall violent crime is down in many cities that have dispensaries. A study done last year by the Los Angeles Police Department showed that banks were more often the victims of robberies than marijuana dispensaries. And some cities with strong political support for dispensaries are satisfied with the way they’ve been doing business and have no laundry list of complaints.
But this isn’t just a cut-and-dried question of whether or not dispensaries are magnets for crime or traffic or gangs.
The fact remains that many sick and disabled residents of San Luis Obispo County have a legitimate reason to use medical marijuana and currently have no local dispensary where they can buy it.
Our county supervisors had them in mind in 2006, when they approved an ordinance allowing marijuana dispensaries in the unincorporated areas, under certain strict conditions.
If the county is going to keep that ordinance on the books — and we believe that it should — it must not set the bar so high that no applicant will ever be able to clear it.