Supervisors turn down marijuana dispensary in Nipomo

Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative sought to operate a dispensary at 2122 Hutton Road, south of Nipomo.
Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative sought to operate a dispensary at 2122 Hutton Road, south of Nipomo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The third time was not the charm for plans to open a brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo County.

Citing concerns by law enforcement, county supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to turn down an application by Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative to operate a dispensary at 2122 Hutton Road south of Nipomo. Twice before, supervisors have turned down proposals for physical dispensaries approved by the Planning Commission since the county passed regulations to allow for them in 2007.

Supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and Frank Mecham voted against the dispensary, with Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill voting for it. In voting against the dispensary, the three supervisors cited the unanimous opposition voiced by law enforcement officials during a nearly five-hour hearing.

“We are making decisions that will have ramifications for the entire Central Coast,” Compton said. “I am relying on the police and legal people like the district attorney here today, and we didn’t have one of them in favor of it.”

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said it would take his deputies between 13 and 15 minutes to respond to an emergency at the dispensary because it would be located at the extreme southern part of the county near Santa Maria.

“Crime is what I am most concerned with,” he said. “I don’t think that this location is something I can service.”

District Attorney Dan Dow agreed, saying that places where marijuana is sold are targets for robberies and burglaries because they have a lot of cash and marijuana on hand. He talked about two residential marijuana burglaries that occurred in Morro Bay and Los Osos in 2009 that resulted in deaths.

“The bottom line is that marijuana sales, when they are not closely regulated, tend to bring more crime,” he said. “The large amounts of cash and marijuana create an attractive nuisance.”

Gibson and Hill said there was only anecdotal evidence that a marijuana dispensary would increase crime. The dispensary would provide a much-needed place for people with medical marijuana prescriptions to get it.

Currently, people with medical marijuana prescriptions must rely on more than 30 mobile services that deliver the marijuana directly to homes.

“I don’t see that this particular use would change the quality of life in that part of the county,” Gibson said. “I am persuaded by the fact that we need to bring this use out of the shadows. I don’t see any risk of significance to the county.”

The application for a minor-use permit to establish the dispensary was appealed to the Board of Supervisors by James Bigelow of Nipomo. He cited concerns that the business would attract crime to the area, increase traffic congestion and generally negatively impact Nipomo.

County staff recommended that supervisors approve the dispensary and include a requirement that applicant Stephanie Kiel return to the Planning Commission in two years for an evaluation of how the dispensary has been operating and discuss any problems.

After the hearing, Kiel said she is not sure what she will do now, but she expects that she will eventually submit another application.

“I wholeheartedly believe that this is a step the county needs to take,” she said.

Medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. However, California has passed laws that allow the commercial sale of medical marijuana.

There are currently no brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries in the county. The last dispensary to operate in the county was Charles Lynch’s Morro Bay-based Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, which was raided by federal and local authorities in 2007 and subsequently shut down.