Let’s rethink medical marijuana ordinance in SLO County

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

The rejection of yet another medical marijuana dispensary by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors illustrates once more that the county needs to reconsider its ordinance, rather than continue down the perverse road it’s on.

As we’ve said repeatedly, it’s unfair to mislead applicants into believing they have a shot at being allowed to open a storefront dispensary when it appears the board has no intention of ever letting that happen.

Here’s the double standard the county’s been practicing: It has an ordinance on the books that ostensibly allows brick-and-mortar dispensaries in certain limited locations — officials don’t want them near churches, schools, parks, downtown business districts or residential neighborhoods. That pretty much limits them to out-of-the-way locations.

Yet, when a dispensary is proposed in a relatively remote area — as was the case this time — guess what? That’s no good either, because it would take law enforcement too long to respond to calls there.

That was the gist of the message delivered by county Sheriff Ian Parkinson. He warned supervisors that it would take 13 to 15 minutes to respond to an emergency at the dispensary, proposed for a commercial or industrial area at the south end of the county.

District Attorney Dan Dow had similar concerns.

“The bottom line is that marijuana sales, when they are not closely regulated, tend to bring more crime,” he told the board.

We don’t disagree.

But we don’t believe that statement applies in this case, because sales would have been closely regulated — that’s the whole point of having an enabling ordinance. The applicant would have been required to follow a comprehensive security plan that included fencing, security cameras and a security guard who would have limited access to the dispensary.

If those conditions weren’t enough, the board could have added others.

Instead, 3 of the 5 supervisors sided with law enforcement and rejected the application.

We wonder, are they waiting for law enforcement officials to give their blessing before they’ll approve an application?

If so, that’s never going to happen. Authorities in this county believe marijuana dispensaries are magnets for crime, and they’re not likely to change their minds. We get that.

We hope, however, that county supervisors can balance such concerns against the needs of a vulnerable group of constituents — those who depend on medical marijuana to relieve effects of illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma and epilepsy.

If the current ordinance lacks adequate security measures, supervisors should fix it.

But if they believe medical marijuana dispensaries are intrinsically dangerous, why have an ordinance allowing them at all?