Are owners of Ethnobotanica just blowing smoke?

November 2, 2015

Medical marijaunaBy KAREN VELIE

The founder of a medical marijuana business attempting to open a dispensary in San Luis Obispo County has a lengthy criminal history, including a felony arrest and conviction for possession of a dangerous drug with intent to sell.

Ethnobotanica is seeking to open a 2,500-square-foot medical marijuana dispensary at 2122 Hutton Road in Nipomo, near the edge of the Santa Barbara County line. The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on whether or not to approve the facility Tuesday afternoon.

Since 2008, Ethnobotanica has operated a delivery service providing medical marijuana to residents of several counties in California.

Ethnobotanica founder Ryan Leroy Booker, 36, was first arrested in San Luis Obispo County in 1998. Over the next eight years, Booker was charged locally on 25 separate occasions with misdemeanors including drunk in public, battery, public consumption of alcohol and trespassing, according to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court records.

In Santa Cruz County, Booker has also been arrested several times. In 2001, Booker was arrested on four charges. At the time, he was operating under the alias Ryan Leroy Sage, according to court records.

“The arrests were because law enforcement officers do not understand the law,” said Ethnobotanica executive director Stephanie Kiel.  “The charges (in Santa Cruz County) have all been dropped.”

On Feb. 1, 2002, a Santa Cruz County jury found Booker guilty of a felony charge of possession with intent to sell a dangerous drug. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail followed by probation that ended on June 19, 2005, according to court records.

“I had some mushrooms on a beach in Santa Cruz,” Booker said in a telephone interview Monday night. “They were not even my mushrooms. I took the fall for a girl whose mushrooms they all were.”

Booker said he made mistakes, but 10 years ago when Stephanie Kiel gave birth to their son, he cleaned up his act.

“I made mistakes as a young person, I corrected those mistakes,” Booker said. “I have only been arrested once since my son was born.”

It is unclear who the executive director of Ethnobotanica is. Multiple newspaper articles, some from the same publications, have varying answers. Booker and Kiel have both claimed to be the founder of the company. Booker says Ethnobotanica began operating in 2008.

Kiel claims Booker no longer works for Ethnobotanica. However, an employee who answered the phone Monday said Booker had just left for the day.

“He just likes to come and hang out,” Kiel said.

State records and media reports give a hazy picture of the company’s leadership.

In 2009, Ryan Booker filed corporation records for the Ethnobotanica Patient Cooperative with the California Secretary of State’s Office.

In 2011, Kiel, Booker’s long-time friend and the mother of his two children, filed corporation records for Ethnobotanica and Booker dissolved Ethnobotanica Patient Cooperative, according to state records.

Nevertheless, in stories based on interviews with Booker in 2012 through 2014 with the SLO New Times, CalCoastNews and the Tribune, Ryan Booker is listed as the executive director of Ethnobotanica.

That was before those behind Ethnobotanica began planning to open a brick and mortar marijuana shop in Nipomo. In a 2015 Tribune article, a reporter writes that Kiel founded Ethnobotanica Patient Cooperative in 2009.

“We knew this (his criminal history) was going to come up,” Booker said when asked why the differing stories. “We started the business together.”

Kiel and Booker blame the exposure of his criminal records on former employees who have competing businesses.

“Employees go off and start their own businesses, and then they start spreading lies,” Kiel said.

Booker blames competition in a highly lucrative industry where marijuana dispensaries and delivery services are run as nonprofits.

“They are operating delivery services that will be wrecked if the dispensary is open,” Booker said.

In response to questions about the nonprofit status of Ethnobotanica, Booker said there is a lot of money to be made in salaries. Booker compared medical marijuana dispensaries to the government.

“It’s like the county,” Booker said. “Its a nonprofit, with the sheriff making six figures. You can’t have ownership, but you are still allowed to make money.”

When asked who the original board members were when he started Ethnobotanica Patient Cooperative in 2009, Booker said Kiel was the only board member.

“You only need one board member, I have lawyers,” Booker said.

In the past eight years, since the county approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries under limited conditions, county supervisors have rejected three different proposals.

In July, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve Ethnobotanica’s proposal, with District 4 Commissioner Jim Harrison dissenting.

Nevertheless, multiple public officials including the sheriffs from both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, have voiced concerns over increased crime if the dispensary is approved.


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MajorityFan

You would think the author of this piece would be a pot smoker, you don’t get a DUI for being stoned.


Perspicacious

Yes you do…if driving while stoned.


MajorityFan

FACT: You can drive on pot better by a mile than a drunk.


Rambunctious

“The founder of a medical marijuana business attempting to open a dispensary in San Luis Obispo County has a lengthy criminal history, including a felony arrest and conviction for possession of a dangerous drug with intent to sell”

Well the president said we should give drug dealers a second chance so why put that in the article?


SLOBIRD

San Francisco just passed a law that gun dealers must run a video camera 24/7. If they are in violation they lose their license, no and ifs and buts. So, the longest standing gun dealer is closing his business. Guns are legal in the U.S. and go through all these hoops so why not apply this to the drug dispensaries.


I have never figuered out anyway why this is not sold in a pharmacy like any other medical prescription. I am for medical marijuana but for the likes of me I don;t understand why it can’t be sold like other prescriptions, safe, fair market value, legal prescriptions and none of this non=profit, criminal element. Do it right!


Rambunctious

I agree with you 100%


justbeware

These applicants should be subjected to the same regulations as anyone who sells alcohol or Rx.

A livescan would eliminate some of these potential operators.


mkaney

Except that alcohol hasn’t been illegal all these years. If society has determined that that was an unjust, then why does it matter if he has mushroom or weed related convictions? Who would you rather have running these businesses, the guys with the green thumbs who have been putting themselves on the line fighting it all these years, or conviction-free hedge fund types?


jonhartz

Forget all the moral, legal and health issues about cannabis sativa, just look at the creeps trying to push this through.

Even if this were about a home for orphaned puppies I would not want these criminals involved in it in any way.

Thanks, Karen, for this great exposé! I have sent a link to it to all the Board Supervisors.


mkaney

What makes him a creep? Because he has a bunch of mostly marijuana related convictions? And now when we repeal those laws, because we realize we were wrong (well the majority of us do, so deal with it!), we’re going to forget what lead to his arrests and only focus on the fact he was arrested. You’ve got cop logic.


Rich in MB

Does a burger shop owner have his record dug up?

Or is this a win at any means campaign?

Methinks we know this dirty hit job from politics…..sad…but telling.


justbeware

Do burgers impair your judgment or alter your personality?

Are you insinuating we should have DUB laws to prohibit drivers under a burger influence?


mkaney

Too many greasy burgers will clog your arteries, and burgers not cooked properly can make you sick. Seems to be on par with the hazards of too much weed.


mkaney

Actually to be fair, strike my last comment, because too much weed can lead to too many burgers and therefore it’s double the hazard! jk


freshair

Obama would forgive Booker..


joseywales

what is criminal is the amount of money our sheriff makes while engaging in theft….errr…asset forfeiture to enrich himself even more. All because some stupid weed is illegal.


jonhartz

“Enrich himself”? “Theft”? Your ignorance negates any point you were struggling to make. Take a day or two away from drugs and try again.


mkaney

Apparently more people think that he’s on target and you’re ignorant, and yet you accuse him of being too high to think properly? What did he say that is “ignorant” specifically?


EducateDistrict3

If Obama can forgive ex-cons what right does one have to judge Ryan’s past?


MajorityFan

And who forgave Bush for the deaths of over 4000 service men Zander over 120,000 innocent Iraquis?


SLOBIRD

If this is a non-profit business, where does the profit go aside from their salaries? Non-profits whould have a ceiling of a percentage of the profit going to salaries. Look at what the Clinton’s are doing with their Foundation. They are so scamming the people and tax system of millions of dollars and have a royal lifestyle. Is this Income Equality?


TacomaRose

talk about blowing smoke….this article has nothing to do with the Clintons.


jonhartz

Sure it does, it is about criminals.