Nipomo marijuana dispensary rejected

Concerns about a nearby private gymnastics studio prompted county planning commissioners to block a proposal to add a medical marijuana dispensary to a warehouse building in Nipomo.

Commissioners voted 3-2 on Thursday to deny the proposed project, with commissioners Anne Wyatt and Carlyn Christianson dissenting.

Applicant Robert Brody sought to open a dispensary at 425-B N. Frontage Road. The building is 4,000 square feet, but Brody would only use half of it for the dispensary.

“This dispensary is for people who have doctor’s recommendations that are sick,” he told commissioners. His intent was to give safe access to those with illnesses.

“You cannot walk in off the street to this dispensary as we have it planned,” he added. “You have to get buzzed in.”

San Luis Obispo County in 2007 adopted an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. The county in 2006 became the 21st in California to issue cards to qualified medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers.

Those cardholders now have to drive to Santa Barbara or Oakland to purchase medical cannabis. However, senior planner Bill Robeson said, Santa Barbara recently adopted a stipulation that people who use dispensaries in that city must be residents of Santa Barbara County.

Robeson said he’s met 25 times with people interested in opening a dispensary, and only one time — with the proposal in Nipomo — did the project meet specifications for where it could be located.

“What we’re seeing is a de facto moratorium on any of these businesses,” Wyatt said. “That is the bigger issue. It’s sad for people who are in need of this.”

Added Christianson: “I truly do believe that a nondescript building, well secured, would probably never have been noticed.”

A dispensary in Morro Bay that opened in 2006 was closed a little more than a year later, after sheriff’s and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials raided Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers and said they found federal and state violations.

In 2008, the Board of Supervisors barred a dispensary planned for Templeton, saying it was too close to a playground and did not fit with the character of the community. County planning commissioners had voted to approve it.

By law, dispensaries must be located a minimum of 1,000 feet from any preschool, elementary or high school, library, park, playground, recreation or youth center.

Measurements using aerial software showed the proposed dispensary would be about 1,050 feet away from Nipomo High School and separated by Highway 101. The shortest travel distance by car would be 2.07 miles to the south, Robeson said.

But a gymnastics studio is located 94 feet from the proposed project. While a private business, planners said it offers classes primarily to children.

Commissioners agreed, deciding that the location would place the dispensary near a youth or recreation center where children would be present. They debated over whether the private gymnastics studio qualified as a youth or recreation center, because it is not a public facility.

“I think it’s absurd to make a distinction between children who attend public and private (facilities) and try to view children’s safety differently,” Commissioner Dan O’Grady said.

Nearly a dozen community members spoke about the project. All were opposed.

“I can’t think of the benefits of having something like this in Nipomo,” said Linda Pruit, who with her husband owns property in the area, including the industrial park where the gymnastics studio is located. “There has to be another way of distributing this stuff.”

The South County Advisory Council in January also recommended the project be denied because of its potential impact on law enforcement and for the safety of the community and surrounding businesses.

No one from the Sheriff’s Department attended Thursday’s hearing, but Marsha Mann, crime prevention specialist with the department, recommended in a letter that the project be rejected.

Based on a historical need for increased security measures where medical marijuana dispensaries exist, she wrote, department officials would anticipate increased calls for service and reported crimes.

The Sheriff’s Department “would be unable to meet the needs for increased patrol efforts to this location with resources already strained,” she wrote.

If he so chooses, Brody can appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.