Editorials

Medical marijuana dispensary proposed for Nipomo should be approved

A medical marijuana dispensary has been proposed for this location at 2122 Hutton Road in Nipomo.
A medical marijuana dispensary has been proposed for this location at 2122 Hutton Road in Nipomo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Another request to open a medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo County — the fourth application in eight years — will be considered by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

County supervisors turned down all three previous requests. Based on that record, we wouldn’t be surprised if they rejected this proposal, as well.

But if the Board of Supervisors truly intends to allow a brick-and-mortar dispensary — and the very fact that it approved an enabling ordinance implies that it does — it may never have a better opportunity.

Ethnobotanica, which already operates a mobile medical marijuana dispensary in the area, wants to open a storefront business at the south end of the county, in a commercial/industrial area close to the Santa Maria River Bridge.

If it’s allowed, it will be the only storefront dispensary in the county. Brick-and-mortar dispensaries aren’t allowed in any of the seven cities, and though mobile dispensaries do operate, a couple of local cities have banned those, and others have threatened to do so.

If our county is going to have a permanent dispensary — and we believe that it should — the location in Nipomo is about as good as it’s going to get. It’s on the outskirts of town — about 3 miles south of Nipomo — and it meets all requirements of the county’s 2007 ordinance, which stipulates that dispensaries cannot be in downtown business areas or within 1,000 feet of any school, library, playground, park or youth recreation area.

On top of those restrictions, supervisors have used their discretionary authority to deny projects for other reasons.

In 2012, for example, a dispensary proposed in Oceano was approved by the county Planning Commission, but supervisors rejected it after residents complained it would be too close to several houses — even though the ordinance doesn’t stipulate that dispensaries must be a certain distance from residences.

Homeowners are raising similar objections to the latest proposal. Several of the opponents live in the Costa Pacifica Estates development, located about a quarter-mile away from the proposed dispensary site. Among other concerns, they’re worried the dispensary will lead to more crime and will negatively affect the community of Nipomo. They also believe the Sheriff’s Office lacks the staffing to handle any increase in calls connected to the dispensary.

It’s hypocritical to have a law on the books that allows dispensaries under certain conditions, only to have projects denied even when conditions are met.

The mayor of Santa Maria, Alice Patino, also objects; she’s afraid the dispensary will lead to an uptick in crime in her city and will be burdensome for Santa Maria police and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s office, which may be called to assist in the event of trouble.

Yet SLO County planning staff — which is recommending approval — notes that opponents have provided only anecdotal connections between dispensaries and increased crime levels, rather than definitive studies.

The staff report also points out that the applicants will have several security measures in place, including an indoor/outdoor video surveillance and alarm system and an on-site security guard who will be there 10 hours per day, seven days per week. The county also is requiring another evaluation of the business in two years.

In other words, all requirements have been met and, in some cases, exceeded.

If county supervisors still can’t bring themselves to approve this application, they should re-evaluate whether they want to allow dispensaries at all.

It’s hypocritical to have a law on the books that allows dispensaries under certain conditions, only to have projects denied even when conditions are met.

If officials are waiting for a project to come along that will have the support of the community, that’s never going to happen. Someone is always going to be upset, no matter what the project. We’ve heard arguments against churches and day care centers and veterinary hospitals. If apple-pie projects like those can trigger opposition, what chance will a medical marijuana dispensary ever have of winning over a community?

The answer is none.

That’s why it is going to require commitment and courage on the part of members of the county Board of Supervisors to act on behalf of their constituents who depend on medical marijuana to alleviate pain and other ill effects of serious and, in some cases, life-threatening illnesses.

We urge the Board of Supervisors to follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission and county staff by approving the application for a medical marijuana dispensary.

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