Wednesday, February 8, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 23rd, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 6

Natural Healing Center takes fight for Orcutt cannabis store to court

By Kasey Bubnash

The Natural Healing Center (NHC) is disputing its exclusion from the final phase of Santa Barbara County’s cannabis retail storefront selection process, arguing that the county’s unfair scoring system led to lower than deserved marks for the local cannabis company.

On March 10, NHC filed a petition in Santa Barbara County Superior Court disputing the county’s decision and requesting an emergency stay halting the county’s cannabis storefront selection process in the Orcutt area. The court granted and issued the stay on March 12. 

The Natural Healing Center, which had hoped to replace the Old Town Market in Orcutt with a cannabis dispensary, didn’t make the county’s cut. Now the company is fighting the decision in court.

Joe Armendariz, a spokesperson for NHC, said the company believes its application and organization is “second to none in this process.” 

“We have been approved to operate in five different cities in three different counties,” Armendariz wrote in a statement to the Sun. “All of these jurisdictions deemed our applications not only to be of the highest standards and eligibility to compete, but NHC secured licenses to operate in every instance. No other companies in this space have dedicated the financial resources or the time over these past several years to positively impact the local communities in which we operate, and specifically here in the community of Orcutt.” 

Santa Barbara County’s existing cannabis ordinance allows for one marijuana dispensary in each of the county’s six unincorporated community plan areas, including Orcutt, Los Alamos, Isla Vista, Santa Ynez, the Eastern Goleta Valley, and Summerland. To secure these lucrative permits, interested cannabis cultivation and sales companies endured an extensive application and review process that included three phases of scoring. Through the process, the county sought to identify the companies with the best business proposals that would be most compatible with their host communities. 

NHC was one of 23 applicants throughout the county that made it through the first phase of the county’s application process, making it one of six applicants fighting for a single permit in the Orcutt area. But NHC didn’t make it past the second phase, which included a review of business operations proposals and licensing teams. According to NHC’s petition, the company lost out by a single point. 

“We are certain that not only does no other company in this process understand the needs of Orcutt better than us, but we are equally confident that no other company is more committed to doing what is right and good for Orcutt,” Armendariz wrote in his statement. “Moreover, we seriously doubt that any of the other companies are offering the extraordinary community benefits outlined in our application. Lastly, the attempt to remove the only local company from consideration, while favoring out-of-state and out-of-area operators instead, is not what the citizens of Orcutt support.” 

NHC’s application, which proposes replacing the Old Town Market grocery store with a cannabis dispensary, has been controversial among Orcutt residents for months. 

Santa Barbara County Principal Analyst Brittany Heaton said that although she couldn’t say much about the pending litigation, the county believes its scoring process is fair. The stay prohibits the county from moving forward with Orcutt’s dispensary selection process at least until the county and NHC’s hearing on May 21, but Heaton said the process will continue in other unincorporated areas of the county. 

On April 1, Santa Barbara County revealed its top-ranked cannabis companies in the five other community plan areas. Applicants have a few days to protest the rankings, and once final decisions are made, the companies that come out on top can begin the land-use and cannabis permitting process. 

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