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Local News

Santa Barbara Council Denies Marijuana Dispensary Owner’s Appeal for a Permit

The decision means Patrick Fourmy can't reapply for a city permit for a year

Citing concerns over a lack of credible documentation, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday shot down a permit appeal by a local dispensary owner who has been in limbo since the city filed an injunction against his operation last year.

The City Council voted 5-2 to deny the appeal by Patrick Fourmy, owner of The Compassion Center, a medical marijuana dispensary at 2915 De la Vina St. Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Grant House dissented.

Because decision-makers denied the appeal with prejudice, Fourmy cannot reapply for a city permit for a year.

Santa Barbara’s medical marijuana ordinance is murky, at best. Of the city’s three permitted dispensaries, two are tied up in federal court and the owner of the third is facing criminal charges. Fourmy’s is a fourth permit, but it is suspended in litigation that won’t move to trial until June.

A set of bizarre circumstances around Fourmy’s dispensary were presented to the City Council on Tuesday. Ultimately, the details appeared to cast doubt on his operation.

City staff said The Compassion Center had ceased operations for a period exceeding 30 days between November 2007 and April 2009, a disruption that caused it to lose its operating status and made its reopening illegal. Staff said Fourmy has not provided sufficient documentation to prove that he was open during that time.

The staff recounted looking at the front of the building and seeing no activity, but not inspecting any further. In the meantime, Fourmy said he had received a threatening letter from the Drug Enforcement Administration, prompting him to move to a storefront at 3582 State St. in 2008 from the De la Vina location. A music store operated in the front part of that building, prompting concern that it was a subterfuge for the illegal dispensary.

Another strange turn of events occurred last fall when 50 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $400,000, were stolen from a locked building belonging to Fourmy. City staff said the incident points to negligence on Fourmy’s part. Fourmy also didn’t report the crime, and a month went by before the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation and then handed it over to Santa Barbara police.

“No laws were violated,” Gilbert Gaynor, Fourmy’s attorney, told the council. “(The Compassion Center) was the victim of a crime.”

Gaynor’s presentation about The Compassion Center’s mission was packed with testimony from a half-dozen prominent local doctors touting the professionalism of the dispensary and urging the council to grant a permit.

A number of patients also submitted testimony about how the dispensary had provided them with the cannabis they need to cope with ailments such as AIDS, hepatitis, high blood pressure and chemotherapy.

Gaynor told the council that The Compassion Center is the only dispensary in California to have registered nurses on staff, and “not one neighbor has expressed a problem,” he said.

Patrick Fourmy, owner of The Compassion Center marijuana dispensary, sits with his attorney, Gilbert Gaynor, during Tuesday's meeting.
Patrick Fourmy, right, owner of The Compassion Center marijuana dispensary, sits with his attorney, Gilbert Gaynor, during Tuesday’s meeting. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

He also dismissed the city staff’s concerns.

“At best, they’re legal technicalities,” said Gaynor, adding that if the permit were granted, the litigation would end. There had been “difficulties in communication” between Fourmy and city staff, Gaynor acknowledged.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered on the documents Fourmy needed to provide the city attorney to prove the facility had operated during the 30 days in question. At times, the discussion volleyed back and forth between Fourmy and City Attorney Steve Wiley.

“I don’t want to argue with Mr. Fourmy,” Wiley said. The Planning Commission made a recommendation, he said, “and they didn’t find Mr. Fourmy credible.”

Wiley said whether Fourmy had operated for 30 days or not was ultimately a moot point because the operation didn’t get a permit within 180 days, as directed by the city ordinance.

A host of paperwork was produced by Fourmy, including letters from a pharmacy supply company, bank records, a statement from Fourmy’s landlord’s attorney, and even testimony of two patients who claim they did business with the dispensary during the time it was closed. But no payroll documents were produced, despite having been requested multiple times.

Public commenters came out in support of and in opposition to Fourmy. Even Senior Deputy District Attorney Lee Carter spoke up.

“The business I’m hearing that is operating at that location is illegal,” said Carter, adding that Fourmy had falsely stated that he had endorsed Fourmy’s marijuana operations in the past.

Speaker Paul Till vouched for Fourmy. He said he began using medical marijuana from The Compassion Center when he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“Our city attorneys lack humanity,” he said. “(The Compassion Center) cares about our community.”

But the support of speakers wasn’t enough to convince the City Council. One damaging hit to Fourmy’s business practices came when he was questioned by Councilwoman Michael Self about his record-keeping. The Compassion Center employed nine people, plus a security guard, and Self asked about payroll and whether the staff were employees or independent contractors.

Fourmy said they were employees, but that they were required to report their own income to the state. Self asked if 1099 Forms were issued to the employees, and Fourmy said no, implying that no tax documentation was provided.

Self balked, saying, “You may have bigger problems (than this appeal).”

Later, she told Fourmy that she had raised three teenagers and had learned a few things in the process.

“I’m always suspicious when they get too creative and their stories don’t match,” she said.

Councilman Randy Rowse agreed. He said he was surprised Fourmy’s presentation didn’t address compliance at all. Noting he has been a business owner for 30 years, Rowse said he can produce payroll statements for any of those years.

“If you have sales, you have receipts,” Rowse said.

Councilmen Dale Francisco, Frank Hotchkiss and Bendy White also expressed concern over Fourmy’s lack of documentation.

But for House, the documentation provided was enough.

“They were a stand-up operation,” he said, adding that he was impressed by the high esteem of the medical community quoted in Fourmy’s presentation.

Since Fourmy’s permit was denied, there is the potential that another dispensary could open in its place. That operation may not have good interactions with its neighbors like The Compassion Center did, a concern raised by Schneider.

“We don’t have that problem here,” she said. “We could have that in the future.”

But the messy nature of the city’s ordinance, and the litigation of the three current dispensaries, has further muddied that situation. Just how many permits will be up for grabs is unknown at this time.

“We can’t answer that question right now because of litigation,” Wiley told the City Council.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli contributed to this report. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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