Wednesday, April 14, 2010
SCOTT STEEPLETON, NEWS-PRESS CITY EDITOR April 14, 2010 6:25 AM
It's about three weeks behind the schedule that officials hoped for, but an ordinance capping the number of medical marijuana shops in Santa Barbara at five, limiting membership in collectives -- and limiting the sources of drugs exchanging hands in them -- to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, and preventing shops from opening within 1,000 feet of each other is moving closer to a form suitable to be voted on by the Santa Barbara City Council.
As part of a special meeting on revisions to the city's March 2008 ordinance governing medical marijuana, the three-member ordinance committee on Tuesday also paved the way for Santa Barbara Patients Group, which is operating legally in an illegal location across from a park, to move to a new location without fear of losing its permit.
A multi-point motion to move the revisions along was made by Councilman Frank Hotchkiss and seconded by Grant House, and in the end, committee chairman Councilman Bendy White joined the others in a unanimous vote of the draft. City Attorney Steve Wiley promised a cleaned up version of the ordinance with the proposed changes in two weeks. From there, it goes to the seven-member council for adoption, about three weeks later than originally planned.
Not everyone is pleased with the document -- not to mention the committee's cry that attrition and a crackdown on illegal operators will ultimately cap the number of dispensaries at five, spread them around town and limit children's exposure to the drug. Santa Barbara resident Janet Rowse noted that under the existing ordinance, illegal operators are raided only to open up again. "The citizens really don't believe you, quite frankly," she told the committee.
Longtime nurse Mari Mender leaned on years of working with a variety of patients, including those suffering mental issues and with addiction, in her address to the committee about the lack of a 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries and treatment facilities.
"It's very important that vulnerable people who live in Santa Barbara need our protection," she said. "Those that are unwilling or unable to control their own behavior need our support."
"The Compassionate Use Act, which I voted for, has a place in our world," she added. "Retail sale of medical marijuana does not have a place in our world. It was never meant to be the unfettered retail sales of a dangerous drug." In the hours leading up to Tuesday's meeting, state attorney general hopeful and Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, threw his support behind the idea of 1,000-foot buffers between what he referred to as "pot shops" and schools and other vulnerable sites.
"It is imperative that the city take action to protect our kids and people in recovery," Mr. Nava, who is running for state attorney general, said in a statement. "A 1,000 foot buffer is the least they can do. If the city of Santa Barbara insists on permitting marijuana dispensaries, the community must be made more secure."
Some of the discussion inside City Hall on Tuesday focused on an upper State Street dispensary's seemingly unblemished record of providing patients with the marijuana they seek for their ailments and how to craft the ordinance to protect that dispensary from losing its permit when it moves.
The Santa Barbara Patients' Group operates in a nondescript storefront in the 3100 block of State. That it is located across the street from MacKenzie Park makes the location illegal. However, since the dispensary has long operated, in the words of Mr. House, "under the radar" and with perhaps only a robbery committed by an outsider in its past, it's a good neighbor that deserves a chance to move to a legal location even if that means the move takes place after the deadline to bring nonconforming dispensaries into compliance.
Attorney Derek Weston, representing the dispensary and operator Heather Poet, was concerned that new language pertaining to the number of dispensaries would allow his client "to obtain a new permit for a new location and close the old location without violating the number restriction."
"I don't think that's intended," he added. "I just want to make sure the wording allows it." No one on the committee disagreed.
Mr. Weston also took issue with limiting suppliers only to the Tri-counties. "Santa Barbara Collective has one supplier in Los Angeles who only supplies to the Santa Barbara Collective, has done so for many years," said Mr. Weston. "They consider that entity to be one of the most caring and responsible and safe providers, and they prefer not to have to stop using that as a supplier."
As long as you supply one collective, as is the case with Santa Barbara Patients' Group member-supplier, said Mr. Weston, there is no reason to restrict the source of the drug.
Mr. Wiley said the city is trying to deter local dispensaries from dealing with "professional" growers that operate for a profit and instead encourage a collective model in which the members use what they grow. But to say it has to be cultivated within city limits could run afoul of state law.
"My gut feeling," said Mr. White, "is that Los Angeles doesn't feel local to me." Tony Vassallo told the committee that, after watching the documentary "Cash Crop," which apparently paints Santa Barbara as one of the friendliest "pot cities" between Los Angeles and Mendocino, he thinks, "We really need to do everything possible to get our community off the stoners' friendly-to-marijuana-city list." One way to do that, he said, is to keep dispensaries from downtown. "They really don't belong anywhere near our downtown area because of our city image we're trying to foster for our tourist industry."
Posted by Editor at 10:26 AM