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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 10:05 pm | Fair 50º


Future of Marijuana Dispensaries in Limbo Pending Election

Related court cases are being scheduled for after Nov. 2, when voters will decide whether to legalize personal marijuana possession, cultivation

The future of Santa Barbara’s medical marijuana dispensaries is waiting on November, as no related court case will go to trial before Election Day and dispensary permit applicants are also biding their time.

As of now, dispensaries are allowed under strict conditions within the city of Santa Barbara, but they’re illegal in the rest of Santa Barbara County, and the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows conditional medicinal marijuana use in California.

Both state and municipal laws could change very soon, as both a statewide measure to legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation — Proposition 19 — and a citywide ban on storefront collectives are slated for the Nov. 2 ballot.

After the preliminary hearing of Pacific Coast Collective owner/operator Charles Restivo concluded last week, Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota said the next step in the case was purposefully scheduled for Nov. 5.

None of the cases is close to trial, as there are weeks-long delays between preliminary hearings and trials, so Cota said they may as well schedule future court dates for after Nov. 2.

The county District Attorney’s Office would have to re-evaluate its current cases dependent upon the election’s outcome, said Hilary Dozer, the office’s narcotics unit supervisor.

If Proposition 19 passes, he said, decisions wouldn’t be made in a vacuum, as there needs to be uniformity with DA’s offices across the state.

“Retroactivity is the first question we have to ask, and depending on how that’s answered, other questions pop up,” he said.

For now, Dozer said, it makes sense for both the prosecution and the defense to schedule cases for after the election.

Proposition 19 would allow those age 21 or older to possess, cultivate or transport marijuana for personal use, and give local governments the ability to regulate and tax the commercial sale and production of it, according to the text of the initiative.

Polls and surveys on the initiative seem to differ from each other, but a recent SurveyUSA/ABC7 poll taken from 1,000 adults from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1 shows opposition has grown from previous polls to 43 percent, with support at 47 percent.

Within the city limits, there’s the added complexity of a ballot measure that would ban storefront collectives.

There are three permitted dispensaries under the now-defunct 2008 city ordinance and several applicants for the two open spots to reach the recently adopted ordinance’s cap of three.

The Pacific Coast Collective is in the unique position of being the only one allowed to stay under the new ordinance, yet Restivo is awaiting trial for felony cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana in connection with the business.

No applications are making much progress at this time, as it seems people are waiting for the results of the election to see whether the city will ban dispensaries, senior planner Danny Kato said. If the ballot measure passes, all application processing would stop. Putting the ban on the consolidated general election ballot would cost the city $40,000 to $50,000.

Six dispensaries in the county — four within city limits — have been raided by authorities, and their owners have been charged criminally, from possession of marijuana for sale to conspiracy and money laundering.

The big issues in court cases thus far have been whether the members are collectively cultivating the marijuana vs. a retail store and whether it’s truly a nonprofit operation, Cota said. The new ordinance requires that all marijuana for the collectives be grown within the Tri-Counties.

Not all dispensaries have been busted because law enforcement doesn’t assume they’re all breaking the law — it’s a matter of information, he said.

Only two of the cases have reached the preliminary hearing stage so far, and conspiracy charges were thrown out in the Humanity case.

With possession charges, ignorance of the law isn’t a defense, Cota said. However, conspiracy charges hinge upon intent — knowing that one is breaking the law and doing it anyway. The judge in the Humanity preliminary hearing didn’t find that all six parties had enough knowledge of the law to be charged with conspiracy, he said.

The arrest of Glen Mowrer III led to search warrants and subsequent raids of Pacific Coast Collective, Humanity, the Santa Barbara Care Center in Goleta and the Miramar Collective in Summerland. Cota, the senior deputy DA, is prosecuting all of those cases.

Hortipharm owner Joshua Braun and his wife, Dayli, were arrested, too, and Joshua Braun is one of Restivo’s fellow owners of Pacific Coast Collective. The owners of The Healing Center were arrested when their dispensary was raided, then they reopened it and were arrested and raided again.

Mowrer, who authorities said was selling concentrated cannabis to dispensaries, has waived his preliminary hearing and pleaded not guilty to charges of possession for sale of marijuana and possession of concentrated cannabis.

In the midst of all this, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 classified substance under federal law.

“The campaign to legitimize what is called ‘medical’ marijuana is based on two propositions: that science views marijuana as medicine, and that the DEA targets sick and dying people using the drug. Neither proposition is true,” according to the Drug Enforcement Agency Web site.

“Smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science — it is not medicine, and it is not safe. DEA targets criminals engaged in cultivation and trafficking, not the sick and dying. No state has legalized the trafficking of marijuana, including the twelve states that have decriminalized certain marijuana use.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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