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Ordinance Committee Struggles to Decipher Marijuana Laws

Members look to the state level for legal guidance as they work to revise Santa Barbara's regulations

Once again, the city of Santa Barbara Ordinance Committee struggled to pin down an interpretation of state medical-marijuana laws relating to collectives and dispensaries.

Looking at health and safety code sections included in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and Senate Bill 420, city attorney Stephen Wiley told the committee Tuesday that statutes were vague and largely undefined, leaving jurisdictions somewhat in the lurch while trying to create their own laws.

Medical marijuana is decriminalized for “seriously ill Californians,” which has been interpreted into a broad definition, Wiley said.

Qualified patients, who have a doctor’s recommendation, can cultivate and use marijuana for medical purposes, or get it through a primary caregiver — someone who “consistently assumes responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that person.”

Wiley also went over jurisdictional portions of the statutes: A caregiver has to reside in the same city or county as the qualified patient. Or, if they don’t , they are designated as only one patient’s primary caregiver.

The third category gets trickier — individuals who “provide assistance” to patients or caregivers. While no individual or group can cultivate or distribute marijuana for a profit, some people can receive reasonable compensation for services or reimbursement for actual expenses or out-of-pocket expenses.

Santa Barbara will continue trying to solve the question: Where do storefront dispensaries fit into state law, if they even do?

During public comment Tuesday, many people expressed concern that the dispensary model is illegal since money changes hands, and urged committee members to consider where and by whom the marijuana is cultivated.

Santa Barbara School District administrator Bud Andrews and others called for a ban on the sale of edible marijuana products, which can be indistinguishable from normal food.

Ordinance Committee members Frank Hotchkiss, Grant House and Bendy White will continue the issue at a future meeting, though they may not take additional public comment because of time constraints.

On Tuesday, they also continued the discussion of including no-dispensary zones around substance abuse treatment facilities.

Senior planner Danny Kato and staff took the City Council’s direction and came up with a list of high-priority recovery facilities, which could be awarded protection zones around them from dispensary locations.

Hotchkiss, House and White expressed mixed feelings about the idea, which would further limit allowable locations.

With limited access to medical marijuana dispensaries through regulations, House said he didn’t make the connection between location regulations and danger to the surrounding neighborhood. Enforcing operational regulations would work much better than a circle on a map, he said.

Hotchkiss said limiting access near recovery and treatment facilities is a “matter of temptation.” While he, and others, acknowledged that the dispensaries themselves may behave within the ordinance regulations, some members have been known to resell the medical marijuana after obtaining it.

Near a recovery facility, it would be “like having an audience waiting for you,” he said.

Recovery doesn’t end when someone leaves a facility, and having dispensaries nearby creates “an atmosphere of permissiveness and temptation,” said Fighting Back coordinator Jen Lemberger, who has voiced support for a ban.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has a recovery facility as well, which would eliminate dispensaries from that entire area if it were included.

White had an issue with that, since he and others have supported having access in the medical area, and said he was “struggling” with all the staff time spent on various maps showing which parts of the city were allowable or not for dispensaries.

In public comment, a few people agreed with House’s sentiments, wondering how much location mattered compared with strict operational guidelines.

Robert Burke, who said he has gone through various 12-step programs, said the locations of dispensaries are pointless, as he would have walked five miles for a drink or smoke if he wanted.

Hans Edwards, whose application for a dispensary was appealed and then shot down, said it was inconsistent to restrict the location of dispensaries — but not liquor stores — near recovery facilities.

The issue most likely will come up again March 30. Click here for more information about the ordinance.

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

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