Plans for what would be San Luis Obispo County’s first brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensary in recent years were approved Thursday, but the owner of the business said she knows the future of the controversial establishment in Nipomo is still far from certain.
On Thursday, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted 3-1 to approve a request by Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative to approve a minor-use permit to operate a dispensary at 2122 Hutton Road. Commissioner Jim Harrison, who represents District 4 where the dispensary would be located, voted against the proposal, citing the possibility of increased crime in the area. Commissioner Don Campbell was absent.
After the hearing, Ethnobotanica owner Stephanie Kiel said, “We’re very happy with this decision and with the planning commissioners. The commissioners were very rational and logical and willing to listen (to other sides), and I thank them for that. But we know this was only the first hurdle.”
The Planning Commission has twice before approved proposals for physical dispensaries, but both times the decision has been overturned by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors following an appeal.
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Kiel said she expects the latest decision will be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, but she is “optimistic” the board will vote in favor of Ethnobotanica.
At Thursday’s hearing, most of the speakers were in favor of allowing a storefront dispensary in the county.
“I personally feel there is a need for businesses like this, and we need to — as a county — find a way to implement them,” Commissioner Ken Topping said during discussion.
Others said that many patients don’t want to use a mobile dispensary because it involves inviting a stranger to their homes to deliver the medical marijuana.
“I really think this is a benefit to our community to have this,” said Ernest Hall, who operates mobile dispensary Dub’s Green Garden Collective out of Paso Robles. “It’s going to happen. Whether it happens today or tomorrow, it’s going to happen.”
Several homeowners from the Costa Pacifica housing development in Nipomo spoke out against the business, which would be a little over a quarter of a mile from their homes.
“I’ve read that there is a 1 percent chance (of increased crime in the area),” said Costa Pacifica resident Mary Oliver. “I don’t want even that 1 percent risk.”
Some also said traffic at the Hutton Road-Highway 101 interchange was already a problem and an added business would increase congestion.
To address some of the concerns, the commission required that the security system and plans proposed by Ethnobotanica be installed as they were presented and that the business come before the commission two years after sales begin for a public review hearing to ensure that it followed all the permit conditions.
There are currently no brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County. The last physical dispensary to operate in the county was Charles Lynch’s Morro Bay-based Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, which was raided by the federal and local authorities in 2007 and subsequently shut down.