Ban pot shops in SLO County? That’s a head-in-the-sand move

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is considering a ban on storefront dispensaries where customers can check out products, such as these on display at the Indispensary in Colorado Springs.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is considering a ban on storefront dispensaries where customers can check out products, such as these on display at the Indispensary in Colorado Springs. MCT

What if it were OK to grow grapes in San Luis Obispo County, but against the law to sell wine in local stores? Crazy, right?

Yet that’s exactly what conservative members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors have in mind for marijuana.

On Tuesday, Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong all voiced support for prohibiting storefront dispensaries from operating in unincorporated communities. It was a shocker for many in the audience, since it was the first time such a ban has been proposed during the many months the county has been drafting a commercial marijuana ordinance.

We believe an outright ban on all dispensaries is a head-in-the-sand move.

The idea behind legalization was to get the business of growing, producing and selling marijuana out in the open. That way, the industry could be regulated to protect consumers — including children — while generating jobs and tax revenue.

If dispensaries are banned, consumers will simply go to other jurisdictions, such as Grover Beach, to purchase. Or they’ll buy through a mobile delivery service or even on the black market.

What’s more, a ban on dispensaries is regressive. The county currently allows dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, at least in theory. Restrictions — including security measures and a minimum distance from schools, churches and other sensitive uses — are so tight that no applicant has ever succeeded in getting a license.

If the board majority has its way, even the remote possibility of opening a brick-and-mortar dispensary would disappear, shutting the door on a growing industry that is now legal in California.

A close-up look at Forbidden Farms' marijuana growing operation in Shelton and the processing facility on the Tacoma Tideflats in Washington. Owned by the Balduff brothers Garrett and Taylor, the premium producer even supplies cannabis connoisseur

The conservative majority also expressed support for a ban on production of edibles, such as candy and baked goods, after Chairman Peschong related an incident in Colorado involving a child who had to be hospitalized after eating edibles.

There has indeed been an uptick in accidental marijuana ingestion by young children in Colorado. According to the New York Times, the number of poisonings in the state increased by 150 percent between 2014 to 2016, though the total number was still relatively small. Also, Colorado has since passed regulations aimed at preventing accidental poisoning, such as forbidding marijuana “gummies” and requiring child-proof packaging.

We appreciate Peschong’s concern for children, but banning production of edibles in San Luis Obispo County does nothing. Consumers will still be able to purchase edibles produced outside the county. The prohibition will only penalize local producers and their potential employees; it will not protect children.

The board still has a chance to reverse course.

Due to a procedural matter — the board had to adjourn at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, after Supervisor Adam Hill objected to staying later in to protest the way the process was playing out — deliberations will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.

The public also will have the opportunity to testify on the proposed changes to the draft ordinance.

We strongly urge the board majority to reconsider the direction it’s taking.

Like it or not — and we recognize many people don’t like it — recreational marijuana is legal in California. What’s more, the entire nation is heading in that direction.

Banning storefront dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County isn’t going to change that — any more than the National Prohibition Act passed in 1919 prevented people from drinking wine.

In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of Ballotpedia.com.

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