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Will medicinal pot return? 

County supervisors turn back a Templeton dispensary

There were folks in wheelchairs, kids with signs, and hours of testimony. There were punchy exchanges, uncomfortable politicians, and patient-to-a-fault staffers.

click to enlarge NEGATIVE ENERGY :  Denis Robinson, who had testified in support of allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in Templeton, took a break as county supervisors voted against the idea. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • NEGATIVE ENERGY : Denis Robinson, who had testified in support of allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in Templeton, took a break as county supervisors voted against the idea.

# Moms and teachers and police officers and epileptics and local gadflies and children all testified about the supposed dangers and benefits of marijuana.

But what wasn't evident in the April 8 Board of Supervisors hearing over a bid to place a medical marijuana dispensary near the freeway in Templeton was any support for the idea from those in power.

The Planning Commission had supported the location, but the supervisors unanimously approved an appeal of the decision.

Supervisors said that the location was too close to a park that was--although across a busy freeway--within 1,000 feet of the dispensary and thus in violation of the county's plan. They also said it wouldn't have fit with the surrounding community.

Austen Connella, the bearded college student who has led the effort to build the dispensary, said even before the vote that he'd try again if he lost. He lost.

He noted that the county has an ordinance explicitly allowing dispensaries in the unincorporated parts of the county, with certain restrictions--such as the 1,000-feet-from-any-park rule.

"The county has already approved medical marijuana dispensaries," he said.

People turned out in numbers for and against the idea, lining up at the podium for two hours of testimony.

Bob Joslin, who works for the City of Atascadero, was there with his four children, all of them waving signs made from paper plates and Popsicle sticks featuring the word "drugs" with a line through it.

"We've been taught in school that drugs are harmful," said his 16-year-old daughter, Jennie. "What kind of message would this send?"

And Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Soloman, who was one of two people who appealed the Planning Commission's decision, publicly questioned Connella's character in her presentation to the board.

Showing pictures of his MySpace page on the large screen in the hearing room, she asserted that Connella appears to use drugs recreationally and illicitly. She reiterated her allegations in an interview, saying, "He's hiding behind the guise of being a medical marijuana user."

Connella, dressed in a gray suit for the hearing, said in an interview that he felt Soloman's testimony was out of bounds. He said that the pictures she referred to were taken in Amsterdam, where marijuana use is legal, and he questioned why a land-use matter would involve public questions of his character.

Much of the testimony at the hearing centered on the conflicts between state and federal law.

California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. But federal law still bans marijuana for medicinal use, and federal law enforcement agencies have cracked down on California dispensaries, including one that existed in Morro Bay.

Other testimony centered on the question of whether dispensaries attract crime--there was testimony both ways--and about whether the county needs more complete regulations for any possible dispensaries.

By the end of the hearing, much of the supervisors' testimony centered not on whether, but how they would deny the appeal. They discussed at length denial language they felt could survive a legal challenge.

"The community spoke loud and clear," said supervisor Katcho Achadjian. "It is what it is."

The board officially denied the dispensary on the grounds that it was out of character with the community and didn't meet the 1,000-foot required distance from a park.


Managing Editor Patrick Howe can be reached at [email protected].


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