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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 11:58 pm | Fair 52º


Santa Barbara County Supervisors Vote to Pursue Ban of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The board rejects ordinance changes to allow storefronts in specific locations

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors rejected ordinance changes on Tuesday that would allow medical marijuana storefronts and instead voted 4-1 to pursue a permanent ban.

The temporary moratorium is set to expire Dec. 6, so the supervisors have the choice to let it lapse or pursue an ordinance or a ban.

The Montecito and county planning commissions recommended zoning ordinance changes that would allow the storefronts in specific locations with a conditional use permit.

Conditions would be more restrictive than if there was no ordinance, with buffers required between storefronts, from schools or parks and from residential zones. With those buffers in place, there would be 34 possible sites in the county, but only seven once the buffer between dispensaries was counted.

The goal of the ordinance changes would be to provide regional and realistic access while protecting sensitive uses, according to staff members. Zoning ordinances wouldn’t regulate the cultivation or transportation of marijuana, operators or non-storefront collectives or cooperatives, which are also subject to the state Compassionate Use Act.

There were four known dispensaries as of January 2010, two of which are being investigated for zoning enforcement and one that closed because of a criminal investigation. Green Room, a Summerland dispensary, is still open and operating.

Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray asked where the storefronts get their product “when you can’t grow acres and acres of marijuana” and asked about the conflict between state and federal law.

“It makes absolutely no sense with this many conflicts of laws to try and zone something,” Gray said.

The Attorney General Guidelines say a collective can grow marijuana cooperatively for medicinal purposes, but county counsel Dennis Marshall said the county wouldn’t know whether dispensary marijuana was legally cultivated.

Undersheriff Jim Peterson said the Sheriff’s Department struggles with the same problem.

“We can’t deny there is a conflict between federal and state law. It’s where we have a hard time doing our job in an efficient manner,” he said. “Any operation like this is against federal law, but we’re interested in illegal activities, not necessarily concerned with minor issues of medicinal pot for those that need it.”

The department would support a ban, he said, and about 30 percent of California counties already have bans.

Looking into a dispensary’s legality usually focuses on where the marijuana comes from, whether it is truly a nonprofit, and whether there is criminal activity involving money laundering, property crime or other issues, he said.

Public speakers, including Seamus Ethridge, who provides medical marijuana for patients throughout the county, asked the supervisors to approve the ordinance changes, but allow off-site deliveries and edible products to be sold.

Resident Betty Nelson said the county doesn’t have enough people to monitor the rules, so the issue should be given more consideration.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she couldn’t think of any other land use that’s prematurely cut off from applying for a permit because of possible enforcement and made a motion to approve the ordinance changes, but no one seconded it.

No appeals court has upheld or invalidated a ban, and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino made the motion to send language for a ban to the planning commissions.

“I am sympathetic to those who need it, but we’re not limiting access” since the City of Santa Barbara has permitted dispensaries, he said.

A proposed ban will go before the Montecito and county planning commissions and then come back to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision, most likely in November.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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