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Santa Barbara City Council Adopts Moratorium on Marijuana Distribution

Approved dispensaries may continue to operate, but others are on hold pending a new ordinance

After a full day of public meetings, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved and adopted a suspension ordinance — or moratorium — for medical marijuana distribution.

The storefront distribution locations that already have been approved may continue to operate, but all others are stopped in their tracks until a new ordinance is adopted.

A provision that was included in the moratorium allows the processing of pending and future applications for completeness, but the city staff will not approve or deny any projects under the moratorium.

This affects those awaiting appeal or an initial hearing. The moratorium is effective for 45 days, but can — and most likely will be — extended for up to a year. It will end once a new ordinance is in place.

There are three approved locations, two awaiting appeal, five pending, and several nonconforming, illegal or disputed locations. The city attorney has sent cease-and-desist letters to dispensaries on State, Parker, East Haley and De la Vina streets. Most are suspected of being closed for 30 days or more, which violates the ordinance.

Most members of the public who attended Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of the moratorium but were wary about the future of the ordinance given the issue’s legal standing statewide.

Court cases are likely to bring changes and better clarity to the issue within the next few months, said David Hughes, a retired attorney and Housing Authority commissioner.

It has been difficult for Planning Department staff to evaluate applications under the current ordinance since they knew changes were coming, and a moratorium helps alleviate the dilemma, Community Development Director Paul Casey said.

Several current medical-marijuana storefront owners were present Tuesday. Some agreed with the need for a moratorium, but some worried about the situation after it is lifted. It could give priority to those who have already filed paperwork and further delay the progress of who, legally, have followed all of the rules under the current ordinance.

Sharon Byrne supported the moratorium, but said the provision could allow out-of-town applicants to hold their places in line. “These aren’t people invested in our community,” she said.

Many groups, including representatives from the Fighting Back Coalition and Santa Barbara Rescue Mission president Rolf Geyling, support the moratorium and spoke in support of limiting the availability of marijuana to nonmedical uses.

Councilmembers Dale Francisco and Iya Falcone, who brought the issue of revising the medical marijuana ordinance to the council, were absent Tuesday.

The revisions proposed by the Ordinance Committee will go before the Planning Commission later this week and end up back with the City Council in early 2010. The decision to extend the moratorium will also be on the agenda next year.

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

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