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Santa Barbara Starting Process to Change Regulations to Grow, Sell Marijuana

Marijuana was a smoking hot topic at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting, as city officials plan to change municipal code and develop guidelines for the cannabis marketplace.

Santa Barbara’s existing ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries doesn't comply with new California law legalizing commercial activities related to medical and non-medical marijuana.

Council members unanimously voted to have city staff develop some guidelines for medical and non-medical marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing, dispensing, distribution and transportation.

The city’s Ordinance Committee is expected to flesh out specifics at a future meeting, and zoning regulations within the city will be reviewed by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission.

Six months is the goal to craft policy framework, according to city planner Andrew Bermond. 

Whatever rules are developed, they'll come back to the City Council for final approval.

Santa Barbara currently has three ordinances regulating the cultivation and sale of medical and non-medical cannabis, which allow medical marijuana dispensaries and ban growing and selling marijuana for non-medical use. 

As written, the ordinance adopted January 2016 “allows a qualified patient to cultivate up to 100 square feet of medical marijuana, either indoors or outdoors, for personal use at his or her residence within the city.” 

Layers of local, state and federal government regulations offer "inconsistent or conflicting guidance" about the time, location and manner where marijuana-related activities may happen, according to a staff report.

By adopting California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the Bureau of Marijuana Control is developing a commercial licensing program for marijuana-related business. 

Under California regulations — if a local government does not prohibit commercial marijuana-related activity and have a permitting system established — commercial license applicants must obtain a local permit before the state issues a license for commercial activities. 

The state will issue a commercial marijuana license without local approval if the local government does not prohibit commercial marijuana activity or have a permitting system.

If council members want to regulate marijuana-related businesses and commercial activity, regulations likely will need to be implemented before the state begins issuing licenses in 2018.

Bermond said three medical marijuana dispensaries are currently allowed to operate within the city under the Santa Barbara’s present ordinance.

“Although we do not have operating medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, at the moment we do have a robust delivery according to weedmaps.com,” Bermond said.

Bermond noted Santa Barbara voters overwhelming supported the Santa Barbara Marijuana Control Act, a measure imposing a 20-percent tax on medicinal and recreational marijuana businesses.

City staff said the act, which went effect March 1, would generate about $1.1 million annually from the city’s three permitted medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The voters of Santa Barbara have spoken multiple times about their interest in having cannabis available to city residents,” Councilman Gregg Hart said. “I don’t think it is much different than any other product — if it's appropriately sited in the correct zone.”

Hart said he is concerned about outdoor personal marijuana cultivation because of the odor drifting in residential neighborhoods.

Passing bans could limit the city’s eligibility to receive grants for public safety and health programs funded by California’s marijuana tax, according to a staff report.

Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, includes a grant program for local governments that do not ban retail sales, commercial cultivation, or personal outdoor cultivation.  

“If there are safety controls and a benefit regarding tax revenues, then let us not shut the door until we know more,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said. “There’s support in the city for medical marijuana and responsible adult-use.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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