Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 10:29 pm | Fair 52º


Smoldering Dispensary Debate May Flash Tuesday at City Council

Santa Barbara officials poised to decide some medical marijuana ordinance changes but may put off full revision

This is it. Or not.

After almost seven months of discussions, the Santa Barbara City Council could adopt a revised medical marijuana dispensary ordinance Tuesday. But if the past is any indication, it could be a while before consensus is reached.

The proposed revisions are two-fold, with the first “phase” including more stringent location and operational requirements for the storefronts and the second including a broader discussion of allowing storefront dispensaries versus Proposition 215-approved collectives. Passed by California voters in 1996, Prop. 215 allows for the personal use of medical marijuana and has since been expanded to include collectives and cooperative distribution.

Click here to view the staff report. Click here for the latest city ordinance information.

On Tuesday, council members are being asked to finalize Phase I revisions and either adopt them now or wait until Phase II discussions are completed. Most of the revision decisions were made by the previous council, which also passed a moratorium in December to stop the approval of any new dispensaries.

An incentive for passing the ordinance changes in two parts has been to require — therefore enforce — stricter rules for existing dispensaries sooner, since those that were grandfathered in do not have to shut down until April 2011 under the current ordinance.

Revisions have included suggestions from the public — at meetings and in the form of the Citizen Revised Ordinance, written by neighborhood activists Sharon Byrne and Tony Vasallo (Click here to view the citizens’ ordinance.) — and much discussion by the former Ordinance Committee of Councilmen Dale Francisco, Grant House and Das Williams.

Every meeting over the past few months has been heavily attended, often by what appears to be many of the same people. Public comment has included waves of pro-and-con arguments, centered on the right to safe access, proposed dispensary locations and marijuana-related crime, including theft and illegal recreational use. Dozens of interested parties also have signed up to receive senior planner Danny Kato’s e-mail notifications, which alert the community when the dispensary ordinance will appear on agendas. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to request to be added to the list.

Some individuals have called for a ban, which will come into play during the Phase II discussions.

The council still needs to nail down a citywide cap number, allowable locations, a deadline for existing dispensaries to comply with ordinance requirements, and oversight details of the appeal process. Staff has asked the council to discuss the possibility of higher business license fees for dispensaries, as well.

So far, the revisions include a cap of seven, a six-month deadline for dispensaries to conform to regulations, banning dispensaries in mixed-use buildings with condominiums, more staff hearing officer discretion, a ban within 1,000 feet of Casa Esperanza, state-licensed private security, an annual review by the Police Department and having the appeal process come before the City Council instead of the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission recommendations differed slightly, with a cap of two to four, including the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital area, and creating a no-dispensary area around all the uses listed in the adult entertainment ordinance, which includes pre-schools and religious institutions. If this list were adopted, it would effectively ban dispensaries, according to the staff report analysis.

Newly elected council members haven’t had as much exposure to the issue, although Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Bendy White are now on the Ordinance Committee.

In the most recent meeting, Hotchkiss and House passed the above recommendations to council, with White opposing them since he is more comfortable with a three-or-four-dispensary citywide cap. Williams supported the recommendations when he was an Ordinance Committee member, and Mayor Helene Schneider has expressed support for keeping dispensaries farther away from schools and other youth-related facilities.

Councilwoman Michael Self hasn’t spoken on the subject during her time in office thus far.

Three dispensaries were permitted before the moratorium took effect, and two are open and already operating on Milpas Street. There are multiple nonconforming, illegal and disputed dispensaries throughout Santa Barbara.

The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St. The entire staff report, draft ordinance and list of existing dispensaries are available on the city’s Web site, and the meeting will be broadcast live. Click here to view City Council videos online.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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