SLO Supes OK pot plan

July 18, 2006

April Charlton, Times Press Recorder

With a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved adding medical marijuana dispensaries to the county’s land use ordinance. But they didn’t make the process of opening a cannabis club, as the dispensaries are commonly called, easy.

Nonprofit organizations looking to open and operate a dispensary in an unincorporated part of the county will have to apply for a minor use permit and go through the public hearing process.

A minor use permit costs $4,000, and the process can take between six and eight months to complete. Additionally, during the public hearing process, such conditions as restricted hours of operation and security can be placed on the dispensaries.

The supervisors are also requiring that the dispensaries only operate within commercial services or commercial retail zoning, which limits the facilities to mostly central business districts.

The approval, where 4th District Supervisor Katcho Achadjian was the swing vote, also prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools and youth and recreation centers.

Despite a conflict between state and federal law, 5th District Supervisor Jim Patterson said he feels the supervisors have a duty to be compassionate. He made the motion to amend the county’s land use ordinance to permit the establishment of cannabis clubs.

“I think that Californians have spoken to the fact that this should be available,” Patterson said. “I don’t think that we’d be aiding and abetting drug use. We owe to those suffering or in chronic pain to make their life better.”

Californians passed Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. However, the federal government still lists marijuana as a controlled substance and continues to prosecute users and suppliers under federal drug laws.

Third District Supervisor Jerry Lenthall voted against allowing the dispensaries because, he said, the overwhelming sentiment in his district is that the establishments aren’t wanted.

“One thing that I’ve heard loud and clear is ‘Not in my back yard,’” Lenthall said. “They just don’t want (them), especially in Avila Beach. It’s bad for business and bad for tourism.”

A nonprofit organization — North County Resource Center — has proposed opening a dispensary on Ramada Drive in Templeton, but the location isn’t zoned for commercial services or commercial retail.

Morro Bay permits dispensaries, and Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers has been operating in that city for about a year. All South County cities have bans on the operation of dispensaries.

According to statistics, at least 200,000 people across the state use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

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