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Santa Barbara Set to Implement New Marijuana Ordinance

Revised regulations for the city's storefront collectives will take effect July 29

Santa Barbara’s new ordinance on medical marijuana goes into effect July 29, and city officials are readying themselves to implement the new requirements.

After nearly a year of revisionary meetings, the consensus called for a three-storefront citywide cap and stricter security and operational rules.

Only one of the three permitted storefronts — at 331 N. Milpas St. — can stay, and all other locations have six months to shape up, with a permit under the new ordinance, or close up.

Under the new ordinance, members must live within Santa Barbara County and have a valid doctor’s recommendation, cultivation must be within the tri-counties and the operations can’t turn a profit — although reasonable compensation is thought to be acceptable. Vending machines are OK, as long as they’re located within a permitted collective dispensary, and edible products also are allowed.

In fact, according to the ordinance, anyone who “assists” in preparing the edibles will be viewed as “an individual who provides assistance to a qualified patient or person with an identification card, or his or her designated primary caregiver, in administering medical marijuana to a qualified patient ...” as the phrase is mentioned in the Health and Safety Code.

Criminal Investigations

While the zoning ordinance requires operators to comply with state laws — such as being nonprofit — a permit is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The Pacific Coast Collective is permitted at 331 N. Milpas St., but after a traffic stop prompted an investigation, the owner was arrested and charged with cultivation and possession for sales of marijuana, and the storefront was temporarily shut down, Santa Barbara police Capt. Armando Martel said.

Martel, who represented police at most city meetings on the subject, is a 25-year veteran of the department in charge of the investigative division.

Local law enforcement agencies have conducted raids on several city dispensaries and residences, which yielded arrests and seizures of marijuana and cash for evidence purposes.

Santa Barbara police Capt. Armando Martel, head of the department's investigative division, has served as a representative for the past year at Ordinance Committee and City Council meetings regarding the city's marijuana ordinance.
Santa Barbara police Capt. Armando Martel, head of the department’s investigative division, has served as a representative for the past year at Ordinance Committee and City Council meetings regarding the city’s marijuana ordinance. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“The city takes people for face value when they say, ‘I’m going to open up this business,’” he said. “(The city) isn’t endorsing them — there’s an assumption that the business owners are going to obey laws.”

Regardless of civil actions, the police department will always investigate potential law violations, whether they’re reported by the public or discovered by police personnel, Martel said.

“Don’t think that I or anyone else thinks, ‘I’m going to go to a dispensary and pick on them,’” he said.

Investigations into the storefront collective and dispensary raids are resource-and-time intensive and can take four to six months from the start to getting warrants and taking enforcement action, Martel said.

Enforcing the Ordinance

Danny Kato, a senior planner with the city’s Community Development Department, had stayed busy with storefront-collective applications and ordinance updates, but has found a reprieve now that policy decisions are made.

He said he’s in the middle of writing letters to all known dispensaries telling them to close or update their applications.

Many applications stuck in limbo while the moratorium was in place are no longer valid, Kato said, leaving at least three current owners vying for two open spots — all of whom ignored cease-and-desist letters issued by the city attorney.

The Santa Barbara Patients Group has an application for a new location, and The Compassion Center on De la Vina Street and Hortipharm on Upper State Street have applications submitted with updated operational plans to comply with the new ordinance.

The owners of the Pacific Coast Collective and Hortipharm were arrested on charges of possession of marijuana for sales after investigations into compliance with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting cases involving six dispensaries, four of which are within city limits, District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk in an e-mail.

She said that everyone arrested in connection with those cases is awaiting preliminary hearings, most of which are scheduled for August or September.

No owner of a dispensary can have a felony conviction, but the city takes no action on arrests alone, Kato said.

“We’re not going to try to revoke their permit just on the arrest,” he said of the Pacific Coast Collective.

Although some owners have been involved in court action with the city over shutting down, Kato said none complied right away with the cease-and-desist letters.

City Resources

Enforcement and the processing of applications can be a drain on the police department, the city attorney’s office and the community development department, but the heavy implementation process could be short-lived.

A new $120-per-hour fee for processing applications is designed to help with cost recovery, and after the six-month deadline to comply or shut down, there will be only three to deal with, Kato said.

Plans for annual reviews and record-keeping, with cooperation from the police department, are still being developed, but operators of storefront collectives must keep all financial, membership and cultivation records on hand for three years and make them available to city staff.

New applications will be accepted through July 29, although chances could be slim as there are many people fighting for two available spots.

“You could spend a lot of money and not even get the chance to present your case,” Kato said.

Other Jurisdictions

Santa Barbara County is one of 15 in California with a moratorium against dispensaries, and the city is one of 36 with an ordinance, according to Americans for Safe Access.

Many jurisdictions have their eyes on the November ballot measure that proposes legalizing the use of marijuana, and 101 cities have adopted moratoria and another 132 have bans. The Santa Barbara City Council approved a ballot measure for November that would ban all storefront collectives.

Just recently, the Ventura City Council continued its moratorium. During the meeting, some people made references to Santa Barbara, calling it a marijuana mecca, and said the distinction between legitimate collectives and for-profit dispensaries is too difficult to discern, according to the Ventura County Star.

The nearest areas with ordinances allowing dispensaries are cities in the Long Beach area, and Santa Clara and Tulare counties.

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

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