Medical marijuana collective proposed in Oceano clears first hurdle

On the heels of a major federal crackdown elsewhere in California, county planners have approved a request for a medical marijuana collective in Oceano — which, if established, would be the first in San Luis Obispo County since a Morro Bay facility was closed in 2007.

But Oceano resident Tammy Murray can’t open Compassionate Cannabis Information Center at 1409 S. Fourth St. just yet. Her plan is likely to be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, which has in the past three years shot down proposals in Nipomo and Templeton.

On Thursday, though, Murray said she was excited that her proposal had passed the first hurdle at the county Planning Commission. She has also owned a collective in Goshen, near Fresno, since 2008.

“If you give me a chance, I can prove to you that our organization is going to be a benefit,” Murray told commissioners. “We’re nicely tucked away in a nook of this county, yet we’re accessible.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 to support it with a unique condition that they review the project in two years. Tim Murphy, whose district includes Oceano, dissented, citing concerns about the location and a conflict between state and federal law.

In allowing the project, the commissioners went against recommendations to deny it from the county Sheriff’s Office, an Oceano advisory body, several local residents and even its own staff.

Thursday’s vote marked the second time the commission has approved plans for a medical marijuana facility since the supervisors approved rules allowing them in 2007. The commission voted in favor of a Templeton project, but supervisors upheld two appeals that were filed in response.

Murray wants to open a 470-square-foot collective in a 931-square-foot, single-family home on a property surrounded by a sprinkling of homes and mini-storage facilities. A caretaker would live on the property and the business would be limited to 35 vehicles a day.

But her plan fell short of a county land-use rule requiring medical marijuana facilities be located at least 1,000 feet from any school, library, playground, recreation or youth center.

County Senior Planner Bill Robeson said the business is 922 feet from Oceano Park but separated by Highway 1 and the railroad tracks. The business is not visible from the park because the highway is 15 feet to 20 feet higher than Murray’s property.

Commissioners had the option, which they took Thursday, to make an exception and allow the project to move forward.

Their action was cheered by local medical marijuana advocates and supporters, who told commissioners how medical marijuana helped to relieve problems with migraines and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“A collective club facility is the type of access we desperately need,” said Linda Hill, a board member of the San Luis Obispo chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

But the commissioners’ vote left others worried. A next-door neighbor said she was concerned for her grandchildren’s safety as they play on the driveway. Others pointed to Oceano’s lack of sidewalks and adequate lighting. There is one streetlight on the half-mile section of South Fourth Street.

“I don’t really care who smokes pot, but I don’t want it in my neighborhood,” said Barbara Mann, chair of the Oceano Advisory Council, which advises planners and supervisors on projects and developments. “They (planning commissioners) have the rules, but when it’s convenient they find an exception.”

The county Sheriff’s Office also recommended denial because the office would not be able to meet the need for increased patrol in the area with its current staffing. In the past two years, there have been more than a dozen home invasion robberies and two homicides directly related to medical marijuana, officials said.

A sheriff’s substation is located a half-mile away in Oceano, but, “that’s where deputies work; they’re not sitting in the station waiting for something to happen,” Chief Deputy Rob Reid said.