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Judge Upholds Santa Barbara’s Denial of Permit for Compassion Center Marijuana Dispensary

Ruling concludes that one of four findings by the City Council validates last year's decision against operator Patrick Fourmy

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Monday upheld the City Council’s decision to deny a medical marijuana storefront dispensary permit to The Compassion Center on De la Vina Street.

The Compassion Center is one of the oldest dispensaries in the city, and operator Patrick Fourmy’s application for a permit was denied by the council last December because of security and legal concerns.

Fourmy sued the City of Santa Barbara over the denial, but Judge Colleen Sterne upheld the city’s decision Monday. Sterne concluded that three of the four findings by the City Council used to deny the permit were not supported by evidence, but the other one validated its decision.

The dispensary has been in business for 11 years and has had two locations, but hasn’t ever been permitted by the city. Because of that, the City Council wondered whether it would comply with the rules against transferring a permit location and other conditions of approval.

Sterne wrote that there is evidence supporting the conclusion that Fourmy didn’t comply with the ordinance in the past and may violate the conditions going forward.

“The council found that Fourmy’s testimony and evidence appeared not credible and trustworthy, and he has not been ‘particularly believable, transparent or apparently truthful’ in his dealings with the city. Indeed, Fourmy did not do himself any favors in his dealings with the city. He consistently maintained that he did not have to give the city payroll and other requested records. But this ignores his clear obligations” under the ordinance, Sterne wrote.

Joe Allen, Fourmy’s attorney, argued that Fourmy doesn’t own the establishment so his credibility shouldn’t have been a deciding factor. He added that there is enough history of serving patients that the dispensary should be allowed to continue unless there are substantial health and safety issues.

“There is no evidence, at City Council or brought up here, to suggest that there was something wrong with the way Compassion Center is operating,” Allen said.

The ordinance does require dispensaries to keep detailed membership and financial records, and Deputy City Attorney Tava Ostrenger said it was her understanding that records were asked for but “not substantially provided for” during the application process.

Sterne did not find evidence to support three of the city’s findings in denying Fourmy’s permit. To the claim that he willfully obscured the nature of his dispensary operations, she wrote that he has been openly operating a dispensary since 2000.

After 50 pounds of the dispensary’s marijuana was stolen from a public storage facility in October 2010, the City Council questioned whether Fourmy would be able to secure inventory to prevent unintentional diversion of marijuana. Sterne wrote that the burglary was an incident of the past, the kind Fourmy has taken steps to prevent.

“The evidence unequivocally demonstrates that Fourmy has addressed that concern by securely storing marijuana on site. … Captain Martel of the Santa Barbara Police Department told both the Planning Commission and the council that SBPD is satisfied with the current security of the Compassion Center,” she wrote.

The City Council was also concerned that The Compassion Center was not complying with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, but Sterne found that the city’s analysis was incomplete and lacked enough analysis to say the establishment is not a collective under state law.

A related case, in which the city sued Fourmy and his landlord, Bernard Friedman, alleges that Fourmy hasn’t obtained a permit and operated despite several cease-and-desist notices. With Monday’s ruling, that trial most likely will take only a few hours, Allen said. Friedman’s attorney, Sol Levitt, also appeared in court Monday.

The city presented them with a settlement agreement Monday afternoon, which will be discussed further at a hearing on Wednesday.

Allen, Levitt and Fourmy declined to comment after Monday’s hearing.

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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