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Federal Raids Have Snuffed Out Santa Barbara’s Pot Dispensaries

Four medical marijuana operations that had city permits have ceased operations

Santa Barbara’s permitted medical marijuana dispensaries have closed up shop, all within a few months of federal drug raids on two South Coast operations and the delivery of asset-forfeiture warning letters to landlords.

Four storefront dispensaries in Santa Barbara had acquired city permits, which mandated that they comply with California’s medical marijuana laws.

But the federal government doesn’t recognize any legal uses of marijuana, and, in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents served search warrants at Pacific Coast Collective on Milpas Street — the third time it had been raided since 2008 — as well as the Miramar Collective in Summerland, and a marijuana farm in a two-story building on East Haley Street.

At the same time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued legal complaints for forfeiture against the property owners of the three properties, and sent out warning letters to other property owners in Santa Barbara County.

The city Planning Department, which handles the dispensary permits, and the City Attorney’s Office said all the storefront dispensaries closed months ago and remain closed.

Santa Barbara hasn’t received any additional storefront dispensary-permit applications, Deputy City Attorney Tava Ostrenger said.

Since the DEA came in to raid dispensaries in Santa Barbara, “I expect that if a dispensary tried to open, the DEA would shut them down,” she added.

The Green Well, at 500 N. Milpas St., closed May 16, a decision made after the DEA raids on other local dispensaries.

“We have not been raided out, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, the DEA has been systematically raiding all collectives and dispensaries in Santa Barbara,” the Green Well owners wrote on their Facebook page. “With that knowledge, we needed a rest, we needed a couple of days to gather our thoughts, gather our courage and ultimately decide on the fate of our beloved Green Well.

“We will miss each and every patient who set foot through our doors. And we wish you luck and safety in the treatment of your health issues.”

The Green Well opened in January 2010 with a staff of 21, and paid sales taxes on its products.

After a raid on an East Haley Street building in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents packed a van and trailer with material confiscated from the property. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)
After a raid on an East Haley Street building in May, Drug Enforcement Administration agents packed a van and trailer with material confiscated from the property. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Barbara Patients Group, considered a model for storefront dispensaries in the city and a part of the community for more than 10 years, also has closed its doors. The dispensary had recently moved to 16 S. La Cumbre Road from its Upper State Street location because of new rules that prohibit a dispensary operation across the street from MacKenzie Park.

“After many years of fighting hard for patients’ safety and working with the City of Santa Barbara, and moving our location only just less than one year ago, we are very shocked and so sad to say ... we are closed,” the owners wrote on their website.

“It was a beautiful, clean, safe, respectable place for patients to come.”

Heather Poet, whose family operated the dispensary, has been a vocal advocate for safe access in the community, and championed Measure P, a voter-approved 2006 municipal initiative that ordered police to give state and federal marijuana laws the lowest priority.

It’s a quick end to a long saga. Santa Barbara has been struggling with the contradictions of federal and state laws for years. The city allows “medical marijuana storefront collectives” but the county has banned them.

The city’s first ordinance in 2008 was broad and — by many opinions — very flawed, so the City Council worked on a stricter ordinance that took effect in the summer of 2010.

Green Well and Green Light, on Olive Street, which were granted permits under the older rules, were ordered to close, so they sued the city, citing lack of due process and vested rights. They won, and the city allowed them to remain open until 2014 while they applied for new permits.

Meanwhile, many dispensary owners — even the owners of the permitted Pacific Coast Collective — have been raided, arrested and charged with marijuana possession and related crimes.

The East Haley Street property that had had been raided by the DEA is still the subject of a federal court case.

The 305 E. Haley Street property raided by the DEA, which was allegedly used as an indoor marijuana grow by renter Steven Kessler, is still the subject of a federal court case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a legal complaint for forfeiture against the property’s owners, Janna and John Price of Santa Barbara, alleging that they should have known the building was being used to grow and/or sell marijuana.

Attorney Josh Lynn, who represents the Prices, said the tenant, Steven Kessler, is out of the building, but they are still in the process of working through the case. It should be resolved within a few months, and “all parties are working well together,” he said.

According to the federal complaint, the building was used as a farm since at least October 2010, when neighbors complained of marijuana smells coming from the vents, and city code-enforcement and fire-inspector teams saw the plants during site visits.

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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