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Local News

Committee Tackles the Legalities of Marijuana Ordinance

The devil is in the details as officials continue working to narrow down locations and regulations

Discussions of revisions to Santa Barbara’s medical marijuana ordinance have moved toward interpretations of state law, and the city’s Ordinance Committee is wading through the details.

Operating on the assumption that properly run storefront dispensaries could be legal if they comply with conclusions drawn from vague state guidelines, committee members on Tuesday discussed intricacies with city attorney Steve Wiley.

Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss, Grant House and Bendy White didn’t open the meeting to public comment because it was continuing the issue from two weeks ago.

House was the voice of dissent on many proposals, most of which included geographic restrictions and operational requirements regarding cultivation and distribution.

Location is an issue that’s been debated since the revision process began last year, and it’s not over yet. Hotchkiss suggested prohibiting dispensaries in downtown Santa Barbara and keeping them at last 500 feet away from certain youth facilities, including Girls Inc. and the YMCA.

House vehemently opposed eliminating all of downtown, but the other members said there still would be legitimate access for all income levels, through public transportation, if necessary.

Going into the uncharted legal territory of interpreting the state’s Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420 to fit the city’s purposes, Wiley presented possible language for the revised ordinance. 

Language included limiting access to registered members, and to make storefronts operate as nonprofit collectives rather than for-profit establishments. Details involving cultivation, money changing hands between members and dispensary operators, and operational requirements kept the committee busy with an issue that many jurisdictions are trying to grasp.

“It’s unfortunate the state didn’t deal with this,” Wiley said.

While the state attorney general’s guidelines state that no sale of marijuana is legal, interpretations have concluded that it’s most likely legal to have money change hands as long as it’s only for reimbursing expenses, including cultivation, time and perhaps storefront-related costs such as rent and utilities.

Hotchkiss and White agreed that members should be Santa Barbara County residents and cultivation should be limited to the Tri-County area, and all three councilmen agreed that sales — to recoup expenses, including time and supplies — would be acceptable with limitations.

Hotchkiss said dispensaries are a “tortured interpretation of what the law will let them get away with” and that limiting membership would avoid Santa Barbara becoming the “pot capital of Southern California.”

House took issue with proposed financial record-keeping, including having a set income limit for those who operate the dispensaries in order to make sure they aren’t operating a for-profit business. That amount of oversight would be out of character for Santa Barbara, he said.

Increasing regulations such as reducing hours wouldn’t have any benefit, but would take away safe access from those in medical need, House said.

Many regulations have been introduced in an attempt to reduce the affect on minors, and House said reduced hours wouldn’t make a difference since children aren’t allowed inside dispensaries in the first place.

“I’ll listen to you, but I’m not buying it,” he said.

There are three permitted medical marijuana dispensaries in the city limits that have been approved under the ordinance now being revised. There is a moratorium — or hold — on any new applications, and there are six or seven dispensaries considered in need of enforcement.

Senior planner Danny Kato, who has been a staff point person on the issue throughout the revision process, said the city attorney’s office is working with the dispensaries believed to be illegal or in dispute. Cease and desist letters have been sent to many of them, but none has been taken to court by the city as of yet.

Kato said that since August he has spent hours working on the issue, though he’s recently had a small reprieve as the dialogue turns to legal interpretation. He thought it would be done by now, but said it’s getting close.

However, the new Ordinance Committee no longer includes Councilmen Dale Francisco and Das Williams, who were very vocal on the subject; therefore, there isn’t likely to be much more discussion once the revision suggestions head back to the City Council.

The issue will come back before the committee in two weeks, Wiley said.

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

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