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Fighting Back Turned Back on Medical Marijuana

Santa Barbara City Council snubs anti-drug group and approves dispensary policy.

A prominent anti-drug group forged an 11th-hour attempt Tuesday to dissuade the Santa Barbara City Council from officially enacting a medical marijuana policy, but to no avail.

Members of the nonprofit Fighting Back Santa Barbara, which focuses on substance abuse prevention and works closely with local schools, pleaded with the council to reconsider passing the ordinance. The new policy clarifies where medical pot dispensaries can and cannot exist, and mandates that all of them stop allowing people to light up inside.

Because the ordinance had been unofficially approved by the council last week, it was up for official approval Tuesday. Official approval typically occurs on the “consent calendar,” a batch of items that are passed en masse without discussion.

On Tuesday, the group — along with Mayor Marty Blum, who sits on the Fighting Back Steering Committee — requested that the council reopen the discussion.

Das Williams
The council obliged, but ultimately voted to approve the ordinance 5-1, with Blum dissenting, and Councilman Das Williams absent.

The Fighting Back folks urged Santa Barbara to follow the lead of Carpinteria and Goleta — as well as San Diego — which have banned medical marijuana dispensaries. Their speakers Tuesday included Carpinteria Schools Superintendent Paul Cordeiro and Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce executive director Steve Cushman.

Cordeiro said he’s seen too many under-age students receive a prescription for marijuana after lying about their age.

“We see it in expulsion hearings … again and again,” he said.

Cushman said from his vantage, allowing medical marijuana dispensaries is an unpopular policy in the city.

“Every person I’ve talked to in the community about medical marijuana has been very angry about where the dispensaries are located and the effect they have on the neighborhood,” he said.

Blum said she has heard that the dispensaries have been a particular draw for teenage boys.

“Somehow they get prescriptions for sore backs or headaches, and then they go back and share those prescriptions with everybody else,” she said.

But Councilman Grant House said the new ordinance includes language that grants police latitude in cracking down on such shenanigans. Dispensaries that do not comply with the rules, he said, “will be closed down.”

“We also have to be very mindful of the real legitimate need of certain members of the city to have access in a way that’s orderly and organized and well-managed,” he said.

Dale Francisco
Councilman Dale Francisco said the ordinance is designed to clear the confusion that led the medical marijuana situation to get out of hand last year, when the number of dispensaries doubled in a short time, prompting a spike in complaints from neighbors about smoke and other issues.

“If we don’t pass the ordinance now, we will be worse off — it will be a free-for-all,” he said. But he added that he is open to more discussion on the topic.

“This is not the final word on this ordinance,” he said.

According to the ordinance, dispensaries can exist in commercial zones, as well as on certain sections of Outer State Street, Milpas Street and the Mesa, and are prohibited near schools and on downtown State Street.

There are currently seven known medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Barbara. City officials said four of them are operating illegally, because they violated the terms of the moratorium. That is, they are operating without a business license. As such, city officials said, they must be closed down.

The four are the Compassion Center, 3532 State St.; Healing Center, 1437 San Andres St.; Pacific Greens, 331 N. Milpas St.; and another center of an unknown name at 715 Bond Ave.

Two others have the necessary permits, but are located outside of the new legal boundaries. The city is giving those places three years to find new locations. They are Sacred Mountain at 27 Parker Way — located just off lower State Street — and AMG at 100 E. Haley St.

Of the seven, just one — Hortipharm at 3516 State St. — meets all the requirements.

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