Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 1:26 pm | Fair 76º


Public Comments Dominate Meeting on Marijuana Dispensaries

Santa Barbara's Ordinance Committee hears opinions for revising city guidelines, and on the existence of the facilities in general

Santa Barbara residents showed up in force once again for an Ordinance Committee meeting Tuesday regarding the city’s marijuana dispensaries.

Unlike a previous meeting, which focused on the locations and operation of Santa Barbara’s dispensaries, most of Tuesday’s public comments questioned or supported the existence of dispensaries in general.

Committee members didn’t have long to discuss next steps, but decided to send some recommendations to the City Council and will meet again in a few weeks. The recommendations include an unspecified cap and shortened deadline — down to six months from the revised ordinance’s adoption — for nonconforming dispensaries to follow ordinance guidelines.

The cap could be approached citywide or area by area, but the committee suggested more research before making a decision.

The community has little experience with dispensaries that are legal under both city and state law, with only one is in operation. It’s difficult to determine how well the regulations work, and to what extent dispensaries negatively affect the community — if at all — committee member and Councilman Grant House said.

During 90 minutes of public comment, residents discussed ideas for revising the city ordinance, as well as opinions on the existence of dispensaries in Santa Barbara.

Misusing marijuana is a big concern among residents, but there isn’t much information available on how big a role dispensaries play in recreational and underage marijuana use.

The use of medicinal marijuana isn’t recognized in the public school system, and police have both formally and informally cited many students for possession or use on campus, according to Armando Martel of the Santa Barbara Police Department.

The Santa Barbara School Districts have reported 178 suspensions from controlled substances, most from marijuana.

Superintendent Brian Sarvis told the committee Tuesday that one student told him the substance was so easy to get that it may as well be in the school vending machines, adding that Martel doesn’t think those cases have been traced back to dispensaries.

David Hughes spoke on behalf of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara and said the group requests a prohibition of dispensaries near residential zones and special-needs facilities, such as sober-living complexes.

State law bans smoking medical marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, recreation center or youth center. Although dispensaries don’t allow smoking or consuming on-site, there’s an anomaly in enforcement if the locations are within that 1,000-foot boundary — as many are, he said.

Residents also have expressed concern with dispensaries near residential areas, especially the pending dispensary at Paseo Chapala.

Esau’s Café would be next door to the dispensary if approved, and owner Scott Stanley said he’s used to controversial locations. At the restaurant’s State Street location, its neighbor was an adult book store. But he said personal beliefs shouldn’t govern business practices as long as they are safe.

“Who are we to dictate who’s in business?” he said.

Dispensary owners attended Tuesday’s meeting, too, and expressed concern that a strict cap and restrictions would hurt competition.

“We know better than the new dispensaries; we know what to do and have been doing it,” said Heather Poet, whose family has operated the nonprofit SB Patients Group collective for eight years. “We’re very proud to provide an herb for those who are sick and dying.”

SB Patients Group is one of the nonconforming dispensaries because its location is illegal under the current ordinance, although it complies with operational requirements.

Like other nonconforming dispensaries, it has to conform to the ordinance’s standards or shut down by a predetermined date — which most likely would change during revision proceedings.

Because of the lengthy public comment period, the Ordinance Committee will meet again to discuss revisions.

Senior planner Danny Kato has updated the dispensary ordinance Web site to include further information such as the Citizen Proposed Ordinance, white papers and new maps showing current and possible location regulations.

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

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