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Thursday, November 22 , 2018, 3:34 am | Fog/Mist 52º


School Hosts Parent Meeting on Growing Concerns Over Marijuana

A gathering at Goleta Valley Junior High focuses on dispensaries' effects on youths and the community

Regardless of their feelings about compassionate cannabis, parents are getting stirred up about pot in the community, believing that the proliferation of medical-marijuana dispensaries is making it all too easy for children to obtain the drug.

A group of parents gathered Monday night at Goleta Valley Junior High School to hear presentations from law enforcement and drug prevention agencies about their mounting concerns over marijuana.

GVJHS PTA President Carrie Hawn, who said her main goal was “to educate parents about this issue,” provided a list of 22 known dispensaries in the city of Santa Barbara — four of which are legally permitted, five have permits pending and the rest have either nonconforming or illegal status — before introducing Chief Deputy Sheriff Geoff Banks, who spoke about the effect of marijuana dispensaries on youths and the community.

“We have a kind of two-fold issue,” Banks said. “We not only have the issue of the problems with illegal dispensaries, but this last year we’ve had an unbelievable increase in crimes that are related to an increased market for marijuana,” adding that “the law leaves a lot of ambiguity, and that’s what we’re struggling with right now.”

While not directly linking dispensaries to the rise in marijuana-related crime, Banks said the increased profitability of marijuana has led to more crime.

“It’s so profitable as a business that it attracts very unscrupulous people,” he said. “One of the big issues we’re having with this is that people are looking at this as a quick way to make money.”

He conceded that some of the dispensaries are “reputable operations that are following the law,” but he characterized many as “hit-and-run businesses,” saying “they come in and they develop a following and potentially they’re not going to follow the rules. … I guess I’m a little biased because I struggle with seeing the problems that are related to any kind of uncontrolled, unregulated issue, and kinds of stuff where there is alcohol and other types of drugs available.”

Hawn and Shereen Khatapoush, youth service system director for the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, emphasized the increased potency of marijuana today compared with when most parents were young.

“Between 1992 and 2006, there was a 175 percent jump in the potency of marijuana,” said Khatapoush, who referenced state data showing that “kids here (in Santa Barbara County) are using marijuana more than elsewhere in California” — which she attributed to easier availability because of the dispensaries.

Public perception that “it’s just marijuana” and therefore not harmful is simply incorrect, Khatapoush said.

“The adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of marijuana (and alcohol) as it is in a period of strong developmental growth,” she said. “Using brain scans, researchers have found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills. These effects can be mild or severe, depending on how long a person used, how much use occurred, what other substances were used and how vulnerable a particular brain is.”

Moratoriums on new dispensaries are in effect for Santa Barbara County jurisdictions, the city of Goleta and the city of Santa Barbara.

Goleta Councilman Roger Aceves attended Monday’s meeting and said the issue had been discussed by the city’s Ordinance Committee, but that it had not yet been scheduled for a City Council discussion.

On Feb. 23, the Santa Barbara City Council is expected to consider an Ordinance Committee recommendation to permit up to seven new dispensaries — an action that Denice Fellows, president of the Dos Pueblos High School PTSA, considers a fait accompli, unless parents express their strong concerns about the dispensaries to elected officials.

Hawn also encouraged parents to contact officials about their concerns.

“I’ve never seen law enforcement solve a problem where the community didn’t want it solved,” Banks said.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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