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Ethnobotanica strikes back with lawsuit against SLO County, supes 

After a 3-2 vote to overturn the SLO County Planning Commission’s approval of the Ethnobotanica medical marijuana dispensary in November, 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill was blunt in his assessment.

“I think we’re gonna get sued, and that may not be a bad thing,” Hill said.

On Jan. 4, that prediction came true, as the owners of the nonprofit medical marijuana collective filed a lawsuit against the county and its Board of Supervisors in SLO County Superior Court, arguing that the appeal of their minor use permits for a brick-and-mortar dispensary in Nipomo was unlawful.

“Ethnobotanica contends that the county’s denial of [the permit] was an abuse of discretion because the county’s findings in support of the denial were not supported by substantial evidence, and the county failed to proceed in the manner required by law,” the complaint, filed by local attorney Babak Naficy, states.

In the lawsuit, Naficy contends that Ethnobotinca, despite getting approval from the Planning Commission and meeting all the guidelines for operating a dispensary under the county’s strict code for such business, was denied the permits based on “vague and generalized” concerns from three supervisors. 

Ethnobotanica’s attempts to operate what would be one of the first such dispensaries in the county ground to a halt at the November meeting, with supervisors Frank Mecham, Lynn Compton, and Debbie Arnold voting to uphold an appeal of the project by a Nipomo resident. Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson joined Hill in voting against the appeal.

Among the reasons to uphold the appeal were concerns that a brick-and-mortar dispensary would cause an increase in crime. Both SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson and District Attorney Dan Dow spoke at the November hearing against the dispensary. The lawsuit contends that concerns over a possible rise in crime around the proposed dispensary were unfounded.

“As the staff report to the Board of Supervisors explains, the appellant and public officials’ concerns about potential increase in crime were based on speculation, generalized fears, and, at best, anecdotal connections between dispensaries and increased crime rates,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit calls on the court to order to deny the board’s appeal of Ethnobotanica’s permits for the proposed dispensary. 

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