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Tough crowd 

A proposed medical marijuana facility will likely face opposition

For the third time in four years, a medical marijuana facility has been proposed in San Luis Obispo County. But whether it will make it past the county Planning Commission is anyone’s guess.

On May 25, Grover Beach resident Tammy Murray applied with the county’s Department of Planning and Building to open a facility in unincorporated Oceano, she said, because despite several attempts by others, local qualified patients by and large remain without a place to get their medicine.

According to Murray’s minor use permit application, the 5,500-square-foot facility would be located in an industrial area on the 1400 block of South Fourth Street in northern Oceano, fitted with security cameras and staffed by a full-time guard.

Perhaps fittingly, escrow closed on the property April 20.

Murray, who served from 1987 to 1991 as a load master for the U.S. Air Force, moved to Grover Beach in late 2009. She traveled the world while serving her country, she said, and followed that with various careers in finance and public education before opening Compassionate Cannabis Information Center, Inc. in Goshen, a small town north of Bakersfield, in 2008.

Recent incidents involving medical marijuana in SLO County didn’t deter Murray from pursuing a facility here, but rather inspired her—despite the fact that a huge Narcotics Task Force operation in January led to the arrests of 12 local mobile delivery collective members who claimed to have been following the law.

Murray said she’s used her experience at the Goshen club to emphasize the benefits of medicinal cannabis to veterans suffering from painful rehabilitation and post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which she said can be greatly reduced by the effects of marijuana when other treatments have failed.

The club’s marijuana would be provided on a consignment basis from local qualified farmers, a business model that worked for the Goshen location—a club that has stayed “legitimate,” while others in the area have been shut down, according to Murray.

“It is a challenge [to run a club] because of all the compliance issues, but I pay my taxes every month, make sure the reports are done, manage all the people on my staff, and I always make sure we’re being diligent,” Murray said. “I run a pretty tight ship.”

Should Murray’s proposal get off the ground, she will likely have an uphill battle ahead of her. In 2007, the county Board of Supervisors voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within county territory, but no project has ever been approved.

County code dictates that dispensaries can’t be located within central business districts, nor may they operate within 1,000 feet of schools or other locations oriented toward minors. Given the legal uncertainty surrounding safe access laws, many SLO County cities have either voted to ban dispensaries within their limits or declared they just aren’t interested. That’s why Murray is pursuing her club in unincorporated territory; the county has already said it will allow them, she said.

In 2010, despite what he called “careful research,” Bob Brody, a Los Angeles businessman and qualified marijuana patient, had a similar proposal for Nipomo shot down based on the location’s proximity to a part-time gymnastics studio, which Brody wasn’t aware of. Though the studio only operated a few hours a day, it did so 92 (aerial) feet from his proposed dispensary’s door.

The county turned down his proposal, encouraged by the vocal citizenry and Sheriff’s Department personnel who turned out to decry the project.

A similar proposal for Templeton in 2007 by Atascadero resident Kent Connella was also denied. Though Connella declined to be interviewed for this article, he told New Times the process was “very frustrating.”

Senior County Planner Bill Robeson, who was assigned to Connella’s and Brody’s applications—and now Murray’s—told New Times that from the county’s perspective, there are straightforward regulations in place for every application.

“They’re looked at on a case-by-case basis,” Robeson said.

Robeson observed, however, that a major hurdle remains public outcry from residents who don’t want to see a medical marijuana facility in their own backyard. However, Robeson said that during the past projects, he spoke with officials from other jurisdictions to see if repeated claims that dispensaries bring an increase in crime had merit.

“During the Templeton and Nipomo applications, I had a number of conversations with Santa Barbara city staff—they have quite a few—and from what I learned, they were being run correctly,” Robeson said, adding he even spoke with the city’s police chief, who reported there weren’t any incidents at that time.

“It’s just ridiculous. All the facts get misconstrued, like when you tell a joke down the line—by the time it gets back to you it’s all jumbled,” Brody said of alleged misinformation surrounding dispensaries.

Murray said she’s reached out to neighbors of the Oceano building, and law enforcement officials such as Sheriff Ian Parkinson, to whom she wrote a letter in January. Parkinson, elected in late 2010, hasn’t been faced with a proposed medical marijuana facility in his term.

“I feel that Parkinson has compassion in his heart and is a very keen leader who listens,” she said. “I think there were other leaders who didn’t want to listen, who only saw things in black and white, and medical marijuana is in this gray area right now.”

Following a decision from the Department of Planning and Building, Murray’s proposed project could go before the county Planning Commission, where public testimony could be taken on the matter. The commission could accept, reject, or modify the project. Any way it plays out, interested parties could then file an appeal, which would be heard by the Board of Supervisors. 

Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at mfountain@newtimesslo.com.

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