Friday, October 9 , 2015, 10:35 am | Fair 77º

Federal Raids Have Snuffed Out Santa Barbara’s Pot Dispensaries

Four medical marijuana operations that had city permits have ceased operations

The Green Well, 500 N. Milpas St., opened in January 2010 after being permitted by the City of Santa Barbara, but decided to close after federal drug agents raided other local storefront dispensaries in May. The site is currently for lease.
The Green Well, 500 N. Milpas St., opened in January 2010 after being permitted by the City of Santa Barbara, but decided to close after federal drug agents raided other local storefront dispensaries in May. The site is currently for lease.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

Santa Barbara’s permitted medical marijuana dispensaries have closed up shop, all within a few months of federal drug raids on two South Coast operations and the delivery of asset-forfeiture warning letters to landlords.

Four storefront dispensaries in Santa Barbara had acquired city permits, which mandated that they comply with California’s medical marijuana laws.

But the federal government doesn’t recognize any legal uses of marijuana, and, in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents served search warrants at Pacific Coast Collective on Milpas Street — the third time it had been raided since 2008 — as well as the Miramar Collective in Summerland, and a marijuana farm in a two-story building on East Haley Street.

At the same time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued legal complaints for forfeiture against the property owners of the three properties, and sent out warning letters to other property owners in Santa Barbara County.

The city Planning Department, which handles the dispensary permits, and the City Attorney’s Office said all the storefront dispensaries closed months ago and remain closed.

Santa Barbara hasn’t received any additional storefront dispensary-permit applications, Deputy City Attorney Tava Ostrenger said.

Since the DEA came in to raid dispensaries in Santa Barbara, “I expect that if a dispensary tried to open, the DEA would shut them down,” she added.

The Green Well, at 500 N. Milpas St., closed May 16, a decision made after the DEA raids on other local dispensaries.

“We have not been raided out, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, the DEA has been systematically raiding all collectives and dispensaries in Santa Barbara,” the Green Well owners wrote on their Facebook page. “With that knowledge, we needed a rest, we needed a couple of days to gather our thoughts, gather our courage and ultimately decide on the fate of our beloved Green Well.

“We will miss each and every patient who set foot through our doors. And we wish you luck and safety in the treatment of your health issues.”

The Green Well opened in January 2010 with a staff of 21, and paid sales taxes on its products.

After a raid on an East Haley Street building in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents packed a van and trailer with material confiscated from the property. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)
After a raid on an East Haley Street building in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents packed a van and trailer with material confiscated from the property. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Barbara Patients Group, considered a model for storefront dispensaries in the city and a part of the community for more than 10 years, also has closed its doors. The dispensary had recently moved to 16 S. La Cumbre Road from its Upper State Street location because of new rules that prohibit a dispensary operation across the street from MacKenzie Park.

“After many years of fighting hard for patients’ safety and working with the City of Santa Barbara, and moving our location only just less than one year ago, we are very shocked and so sad to say ... we are closed,” the owners wrote on their website.

“It was a beautiful, clean, safe, respectable place for patients to come.”

Heather Poet, whose family operated the dispensary, has been a vocal advocate for safe access in the community, and championed Measure P, a voter-approved 2006 municipal initiative that ordered police to give state and federal marijuana laws the lowest priority.

It’s a quick end to a long saga. Santa Barbara has been struggling with the contradictions of federal and state laws for years. The city allows “medical marijuana storefront collectives” but the county has banned them.

The city’s first ordinance in 2008 was broad and — by many opinions — very flawed, so the City Council worked on a stricter ordinance that took effect in the summer of 2010.

Green Well and Green Light, on Olive Street, which were granted permits under the older rules, were ordered to close, so they sued the city, citing lack of due process and vested rights. They won, and the city allowed them to remain open until 2014 while they applied for new permits.

Meanwhile, many dispensary owners — even the owners of the permitted Pacific Coast Collective — have been raided, arrested and charged with marijuana possession and related crimes.

The East Haley Street property that had had been raided by the DEA is still the subject of a federal court case.

The 305 E. Haley Street property raided by the DEA, which was allegedly used as an indoor marijuana grow by renter Steven Kessler, is still the subject of a federal court case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a legal complaint for forfeiture against the property’s owners, Janna and John Price of Santa Barbara, alleging that they should have known the building was being used to grow and/or sell marijuana.

Attorney Josh Lynn, who represents the Prices, said the tenant, Steven Kessler, is out of the building, but they are still in the process of working through the case. It should be resolved within a few months, and “all parties are working well together,” he said.

According to the federal complaint, the building was used as a farm since at least October 2010, when neighbors complained of marijuana smells coming from the vents, and city code-enforcement and fire-inspector teams saw the plants during site visits.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 12.10.12 @ 12:06 PM

Maybe this pot issue will be the path that opens some people’s eyes to the importance of the rights of the states, and help them understand that an overreaching all-powerful federal government may be a problem.“Conservative historians Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and Kevin R. C. Gutzman argue that when politicians come to power they exercise all the power they can get, in the process trampling states’ rights. Gutzman argues that the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798 by Jefferson and Madison were not only responses to immediate threats but were legitimate responses based on the long-standing principles of states’ rights and strict adherence to the Constitution.”’_rights

Maybe Tea Party people and Constitutionalists aren’t so far off the mark.

» on 12.10.12 @ 12:15 PM

I am totally appalled by the actions ofthe DEA.  They sound very like the goon squads in Banana Republics who do just as they are ordered without regard to the harm they are doing to the citizens of their community. They seem not to have any honor or morality.

» on 12.10.12 @ 01:31 PM

unfortunately InTheMiddle, those who scream the loudest about state’s rights are not those who are interested in sovereignty but instead the right for them to impose their religious views onto all…  And as long as the right continues to pander to the religious ignoramuses we’ll continue this charade.

Here we have a great example of the DARE minded morons who stand to profit by the continued war on drugs.  They’re indoctrinated and woefully naive (stupid). Whether its the warrior like mentality that our police force has been breed to portray, or the moral police that the teetotalers feel they need to assert - these people have been brainwashed by years of propaganda and they refute all science and common sense to foster their personal agenda…

Im afraid that until we outlaw idiots, we’ll have this and other issues rear their head on a consistent basis. And as long as the war on drugs funds so many, we’ll be held in seize by those who insist on asserting their narrow views onto all..

» on 12.10.12 @ 01:51 PM

IntheMiddle, I doubt that this govt and its liberal advocates will learn any lessons from this federal governmental overreach. Imagine if this had happened under the Bush Administration, the outcry would have been deafening. Where are all our liberal posters who would have excoriated Bush, Romney or any Republican if they were responsible for this federal crackdown. Not even a whimper.

» on 12.10.12 @ 05:18 PM

Actaully Lou, many of us loons from the not far right have complained repeatedly and quite vocally about the federal response to CA MM laws. Not that you carea bout that since it doesn’t fit your limited understanding of reality.

That said, if I were running a drug cartel I would be sending the DEA a thank you card every time they shut one of these down.

» on 12.10.12 @ 08:31 PM

I wish the Feds could find a few law breaking illegal aliens, they cant seem to find one? Many of them have criminal backgrounds.

California looks more and more like dirty T.J Mexico, but the Democrats need those votes even though it will destroy our great country. Too many low life peasants taking American jobs so others can sit home and be lazy on welfare food stamps & section 8. 99ers too..

Too many in the wagon with the people pulling the wagon now wanting to be in the welfare wagon..Just Too many on the dole.

» on 12.12.12 @ 12:30 AM

I’m thrilled that the Feds are actually doing their jobs and enforcing the law.  Potheads and other drug losers need to be run out of town.

» on 12.17.12 @ 06:58 PM

someguyinsb: Interesting that you mention that DARE minded morons profit from the drug war. It’s certainly true locally; the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism representatives who contract for court-ordered drug abuse treatment and DARE programs were the most vocal lobbyists against MMJ dispensaries and Prop 19, a non-profit whose income has decreased due to CA mmj law, and whose CEO’s compensation was around $200K when SB was in the process of drafting a dispensary ordinance. DA Dudley set bail at $1,000,000 for both owners of Hortipharm, v $30K for a stabbing on State St. recently. Unfortunately, the DA representative at the Stir the Pot debate wasn’t able to provide any data regarding income to the city or county from marijuana arrests and asset forfeiture, but members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
recognize the fact that drug laws are BIG BUSINESS, not only for cartels, but for the entire legal justice sector of the economy. Nixon probably said it best - the drug war isn’t a failure, it’s a great boon for the prison-industrial complex. Stupidity, or exploitation for personal gain?

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