Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 5:37 am | Fair 44º


Hotchkiss’ Change of Heart Sets Stage for Showdown on Marijuana Ordinance

The Santa Barbara councilman, who had favored committee revisions to the law, now says he supports an outright ban on dispensaries

The false alarm of consensus continues.

With Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss’ flipped vote against a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, the city’s nearly yearlong revision process could be thrown into a procedural dead-end.

Five of seven votes are needed for any sort of action regarding the medical marijuana storefront collective ordinance — whether it’s adoption, further amendments, sending the topic back to the Ordinance Committee to consider a ban or pursuing competing ballot measures on November’s ballot.

With May 18’s 5-2 vote in favor of pushing the ordinance through to adoption, it seemed the months of work by committee members and staff were coming to fruition, but now it appears the committee was working toward a goal that even its own members didn’t support.

Two Ordinance Committee members who have worked on the subject — Hotchkiss and Dale Francisco — have expressed their opposition to it.

“I thought that people would be happy with these concessions,” Hotchkiss said of his affirmative vote for the revised ordinance. After speaking with people in the community, he decided it would be better for the city to declare dispensaries illegal and ban them outright.

It would seem he would have run into varying opinions during his four months of work on the committee that created the offending ordinance, but he said he had “marching orders and followed them.” The options weren’t to create an ordinance restricting the operations of five or no dispensaries, so he followed instructions, he said.

“I thought none was an impossibility and fewer was good,” Hotchkiss said, adding that he didn’t think talk of a ban “would have gone anywhere” in that setting. “At City Council, it was an open game — and that was a game-changer for me.”

His sentiments were on either side of the divide even at the City Council meeting, as he first offered a motion to consider an outright ban and then offered the fifth vote to pass the existing revisions.

With his change of heart and the other six members’ seemingly unchanged opinions, the June 15 City Council meeting could be a showdown for the future of the ordinance.

Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Bendy White — who is on the Ordinance Committee — announced last week that they would propose two conflicting ballot initiatives regarding storefront dispensaries within the city. One would propose a ban, and the other would propose adopting the revised ordinance. If both measures passed with more than 50 percent, the one with the most votes would prevail, Schneider said.

The existing ordinance is still on the books, though it’s suspended until at least December, but any action requires five votes.

“My preference is to have an ordinance,” Schneider said. “I don’t think anyone wants us to stay in limbo.”

Of the mounting concerns regarding the legality of the storefronts, she said she couldn’t imagine city attorney Steve Wiley writing up an ordinance that was illegal under state law.

Regarding Hotchkiss’ changed vote, she said, “I don’t think any new arguments came up on the May 18 meeting that didn’t come up during the four (Ordinance Committee) meetings.”

She also addressed a flier sent to Santa Barbara residents last Friday, which mentions Schneider and Councilmen Grant House and Das Williams as proponents of the ordinance.

“You and you alone hold the vote to preserve Santa Barbara as the American Riviera, or turn it into Marijuana Mecca,” the flier reads.

Schneider says it’s “anonymous bullying,” and calls it out for not including who paid for it.

The matter will be continued from the June 8 meeting and most likely will be pulled off the consent calendar for discussion next Tuesday. There have been more than 20 public meetings on the subject since last July.

Other cities also are struggling to find a solution to pot shops popping up all over town, and Los Angeles’ dispensary ordinance went into effect Monday after five years of discussions, according to the Los Angeles Times. The city hosts an estimated 400 dispensaries and will whittle that number to 100 — as only those established before 2007 will be allowed to take a six-month period to conform to the restrictions of the new ordinance. Groups of patients and dispensary owners have filed suit against the city, but a judge ruled against the group of patients last week, allowing the ordinance to go forward.

The June 7 deadline for hundreds to close means that authorities are establishing a list of which ones didn’t comply — a task that could take weeks, according to the Times.

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

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