Ethnobotanica owners sue county over rejected pot dispensary proposal

The site of the proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 2122 Hutton Rd. in Nipomo.
The site of the proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 2122 Hutton Rd. in Nipomo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The owners of Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative have sued the county, claiming the Board of Supervisors abused its power when it denied the company’s proposal to build a medical marijuana dispensary in Nipomo last year.

“The conduct of the BOS flouted the intent of the County’s own Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance, which is to permit dispensaries under carefully considered circumstances that ensure a proper balance between the safe provision of medical marijuana and the protection of public health and welfare,” states the lawsuit prepared by San Luis Obispo attorney Babak Naficy and filed in Superior Court on Jan. 4. “The County’s findings in support of the denial were not supported by substantial or credible evidence and the County failed to proceed in the manner of the law.”

Naficy, on behalf of Ethnobotanica co-owners Ryan Booker and Stephanie Kiel, is asking the court to overturn the county’s decision to deny the project in November. Naficy did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission approved Ethnobotanica’s application for a minor use permit to operate a dispensary at a 2,636-square-foot space at 2122 Hutton Road in July. The county planning staff had recommended approval, saying the project fit all county requirements for a dispensary in an unincorporated area. The commission added a requirement that the dispensary owners appear before the commission after two years to review compliance.

Nipomo resident James Bigelow appealed the decision to the county Board of Supervisors, where a divided board voted 3-2 to turn down the application, with the majority citing concerns by law enforcement that dispensaries are targets for robberies and burglaries and that the proposed site would be too far for county sheriff’s deputies to adequately service.

Supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and Frank Mecham voted against the dispensary; Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill voted for it.

On Wednesday, Compton said, “At this point, the county has just been served, and all of that information is now being reviewed by counsel, however, I do know, and can say with confidence, that the county will vigorously defend the board’s decision and their findings.”

The lawsuit goes on to claim that the board used “speculation, generalized fears and at best, anecdotal connections between dispensaries and increased crime rates” to arrive at its conclusion, and violated the applicants’ right to due process.

“Based on the facts of the case, it is evident that the three member majority of the BOS would never approve a medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo County because these individuals are fundamentally opposed to medical marijuana dispensaries in any location under all circumstances,” the suit read.

The proposed dispensary would have been the first brick-and-mortar dispensary to operate in the county since the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers dispensary in Morro Bay, owned by Charles Lynch, was raided by federal and local authorities in 2007 and subsequently shut down.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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