The City of San Luis Obispo got a slower start than its incorporated neighbors to the south on licensing marijuana businesses, but five operators are closer to setting up after selections were announced March 28.

The city planner who worked the most on drafting the city’s marijuana ordinances over the last two years, Rachel Cohen, said in the week prior to the list being issued that a dozen folks had met the application’s demands before the January deadline.

With the reasoning being that it is easy to start slow and harder to walk back an open door to this type of business, only three storefront dispensaries were allowed under the ordinance approved by the city council. Nine of the applications which were required to submit location and business plans, vied for the right to continue the legal process to open a retail location. The operator license is the unique requirement imposed, with use and building permits a separate matter. Approval is provisional, pending background checks and other vetting.

In prefacing its announcement, the city issued a press statement noting that, “Applications were scored according to merit-based criteria including community benefit, experience, equity and labor, messaging, medical retail commitment, property control and financial investment to ensure the best operators were selected for the city.”

While not explicitly referenced, security is a huge factor in the selection criteria, said the city’s economic development director, Charline Rosales, with background checks on selected applicants now under way. That’s expected to take four to six weeks. Felonies and convictions related to the industry would be red flags.

New since the city started the process to license marijuana businesses, a pair of SLO Police Department detectives are now tasked with enforcement of local and state law related to the industry. Some of the more than $20,000 in fees collected per application has already gone to the use of those municipal resources beyond planning and development time, Cohen noted.

Applicants being issued the contingent operator permits for retail are: Megan’s Organic Market, a delivery business formerly operated out of Los Osos and at one point sued by the City of SLO for their operations; Natural Healing Center – SLO, an expansion of the center currently operating in Grover Beach with an emphasis on the culture and tourism aspect of cannabis; and Elemental Wellness, notable because while their credentials were approved their site was not.

In a departure from Grover Beach’s approach, which established a sort of cannabis-district, SLO’s ordinance specifies that no two of the operations could be within 1,000 feet of each other and, Rosales said, the Natural Healing Center’s scoring was higher than Elemental Wellness, meaning they have 60 days to find another location.

Notable applications which were not approved included 805 Beach Breaks, which also has a Grover Beach location. Their dispensary, which was the first to open their doors legally in SLO County, is now currently the subject of an ongoing joint fraud investigation between the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county sheriff offices. 

Non-storefront businesses that were also part of the City of San Luis Obispo’s license approvals were Coastal Delivery SLO, LLC, and the “microbusiness” Element 7 San Luis Obispo, with a distributing and manufacturing concern.