Tangible progress was made at Tuesday’s Ordinance Committee meeting regarding the city’s medical-marijuana dispensary ordinance.
Councilmen Das Williams, Dale Francisco and Grant House directed staff to craft a revised ordinance with their new recommendations, which have been discussed during the past few months. City Attorney Stephen Wiley said a draft most likely would be ready in two to three weeks.
The committee has had difficulty with its task, given the legal status of medical marijuana and the interpretation of state laws.
Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced that the federal government would leave medical-marijuana decisions up to the states, and that properly operated storefront-type collectives might be legal.
The interpretation of California’s laws, including the storefront vs. collective model, will be one of the items up for discussion when the ordinance is tackled by the City Council. For now, the committee’s task was to revise the ordinance, which allows dispensaries under city law.
Francisco and the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse are among those in the community who support an outright ban on dispensaries.
“The dispensary model just grew up on its own,” he said. “We’re under no compulsion to go against state law; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Dispensaries violate state law, in my opinion.”
For Santa Barbara residents, main concerns regarding dispensaries have been location, proliferation and the misuse of products.
Recommendations included a citywide cap of seven dispensaries, with one per specified region. The option to expand zoning availability to C-0 and C-1 zones was not included.
“Before we expand, we want to constrain until we get it right,” Williams said.
Including a 1,000-foot dispensary-free zone around Casa Esperanza was included, acknowledging the area as special needs, though the proposed Milpas Recovery Zone doesn’t yet exist.
“At least in the immediate vicinity, there will be no temptation there,” Francisco said.
The regulation of dispensaries and enforcement of those that are illegal or nonconforming was addressed in the form of increased security requirements.
Committee members suggested providing dispensaries with a banned list of known resellers, and having the option to shut down the facility if people sell to those on the list. The Santa Barbara School District has been vocal about concerns with patients reselling or dispensaries directly providing products to students.
Armando Martel of the police department said its new computer system flags dispensary-related incidents now, in order to get better statistics and see if crime problems are real or perceived.
The amount of time existing nonconforming dispensaries have to comply or close down may change to six months from the date of the ordinance’s adoption. In addition, it has been recommended that the staff hearing officer, who reviews applications, get more discretion in deciding the possible negative effects of a dispensary.
Committee members also recommended that appeals continue to go through the Planning Commission, and that applications provide full cost recovery for the city.
“If we create the ordinance correctly, we should provide better guidance and shouldn’t need to make it a policy decision every time,” Williams said.
While dispensary owners may breathe easier knowing that the federal government won’t be as interested in their facilities, they’re facing more challenges as Santa Barbara’s ordinance gets tighter.
A ban on dispensaries in existing mixed-use buildings has been one of the most talked about issues during the meetings.
The conditionally approved dispensary at Paseo Chapala has been the lightening rod for the debate, as it would reside below dozens of condominiums.
Applicant JoAnna LaForce of The Farmacy could be denied her permit, as the Planning Commission appeal hearing isn’t scheduled until December.
Residents of West Hollywood, where another Farmacy is located, spoke on behalf of the facility and its problem-free past.
Existing mixed-use buildings with condominiums for sale, as of the adoption date, would be off-limits, making The Farmacy nonconforming. As of now, it’s the only dispensary, approved or in the process, in danger of being affected by the requirement.
The rationale behind it is that the building’s covenants, conditions and restrictions have been long established and didn’t plan for dispensaries being a possible commercial tenant. Paseo Chapala residents have turned out to every meeting opposing The Farmacy.
“I think it’s pretty clear people don’t want to live where dispensaries are,” resident Jeff Roland said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com.