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Medical Pot Dispensary Approved, But Ordinance Still in Limbo

Santa Barbara council committee will discuss revisions at a public hearing this month

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission last week approved plans for a medical marijuana dispensary, but the city ordinance that governs dispensaries is still under construction.

The dispensary, in the 500 block of Milpas Street, will operate legally when it opens — for now.

The Ordinance Committee will meet Sept. 15 to discuss revisions to the ordinance, which was approved in March 2008 and allows dispensaries if they adhere to certain guidelines.

There are three kinds of dispensaries under the new ordinance: compliant, noncompliant and illegal.

Since the original ordinance passed, only one dispensary is compliant and operating — the one at 331 N. Milpas St. Applications must be approved by the staff hearing officer and can be appealed to the Planning Commission.

The nonconforming dispensaries must comply with ordinance requirements or close down by the 2011 deadline. Planning Commission senior planner Danny Kato said he expects they won’t apply for compliance since they don’t meet the requirements, as many would have to relocate.

There are several applications pending, but so far none has been denied. One application was withdrawn when the owner received criticism from neighbors, Kato said.

There are several dispensaries in the area being investigated or are known to be nonpermitted, he said. Online databases list as many as 11 such facilities in Santa Barbara.

The legality of each dispensary could change, however, since the ordinance has not been finalized. Kato said there was risk approving the new dispensary in the 500 block of Milpas since there is “a whole gamut of things that could happen.”

He said that when it’s known something is going to happen with the ordinance, it’s prudent to wait, and there is some risk that the new dispensary won’t be in compliance — although it is under current laws.

For a dispensary to be legal under the ordinance, there are many requirements, including location, operations and security.

The Santa Barbara School District recommended that the Board of Education urge the city to further restrict dispensaries. According to its statistics, there were 178 secondary suspensions for a controlled substance in the 2008-09 school year, which amounted to 890 days of suspension.

The district also was encouraged to ask for notification of dispensaries near schools and for dispensaries to be closed for a half-hour right before and after school hours and during lunch breaks.

The board meeting attachment also stated that “based on interviews with student users and sellers going through the disciplinary process (either suspension or expulsion), their marijuana originates either directly or indirectly (intermediaries) from medical marijuana dispensaries.”

The law for growing marijuana in Santa Barbara is based on statewide default guidelines for patients and caregivers. According to Safe Access Now, there’s a minimum statewide guideline of six mature plants or 12 immature plants and up to eight ounces of processed cannabis flowers.

The Ordinance Committee’s public hearing on the measure will be at noon Sept. 15 at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

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

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