County holds firm, shifts gears on weed

05/25/2017

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to reject appeals by seven marijuana dispensary applicants, including one in West Marin, and directed county staff to consider a delivery-only alternative and a revised approach to the permitting process. An eighth appeal, by a group that applied to operate on the Marshall Tavern property, was withdrawn earlier this week. 

The decision came as a blow to Forest Knolls Wellness, which proposed opening a dispensary in the village. During the hearing, Natalia Thurston, a lawyer for the applicant, addressed the concerns outlined in the denial, which county administrator Matthew Hymel made on April 11. 

In particular, Ms. Thurston said the potential that a reality TV star named Matthew Shotwell would purchase the building had led to widespread opposition. “We feel that the process was marred by giving undue weight to public opinion regarding a third-party applicant interested in purchasing the property,” she said. 

Mr. Shotwell spoke at the hearing, defending his TV and online persona. “That’s a burden I’ll have to bear for many years to come,” he said. 

Various residents of San Geronimo Valley spoke during the hearing to encourage the board to deny the appeal. Becky Lepori, the Forest Knolls property owner, spoke in favor of the proposal, however. 

Annie Carroll, of Woodacre, explained how the site is near a school bus stop and raised concerns about the time it would take the Sheriff’s Office to respond to any criminal activity there. 

Denise Santa Cruz-Bohman, of Forest Knolls, defended the two businesses currently in the building—the Marin Community Farm Stand and the Pump Espresso Bar, which shares its space with a vintage shop. The businesses would have been conjoined in one space under the dispensary’s proposal. 

“[They] would be squeezed together… and it’s not what the rest of us want,” she said. “Those are two businesses that are doing very well, and they bring the community together.” 

San Geronimo resident Amos Klausner pointed out that the county only received six letters in support of the application. “Meanwhile, the applicant also lists on their own appeal that those opposed sent 252 emails, 413 paper petitions, an online petition with over 300 signatures and had 70 speakers at the county meeting,” he said. 

District Four Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said he supported including cities as sites for the dispensaries—currently only unincorporated areas are eligible—and agreed with the decision to pursue options for delivery services. 

“The ordinance really just didn’t deliver a facility that was a good location or a good business plan,” he said. “And that’s the bottom line.”

Staff from the county’s Community Development Agency recommended that supervisors consider two options: a revised approach to the permitting process that separates vendor and site decisions, and a delivery-based alternative.

The board said a subcommittee would work with staff to draft new language for the ordinance before the end of the summer, with a goal of issuing licenses by the end of the year.

As it is now written, the ordinance allows up to three medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas, with just one in each of three zones: northern, eastern and western Marin.