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Santa Barbara City Council to Allow 5 Recreational Marijuana Storefronts

State Street downtown emerges as potential location as council tries to finalize regulations for retail shops and wholesale grow centers

As many as five marijuana retail dispensaries are headed to Santa Barbara, and some of them could be located on State Street.

The City Council at its Nov. 21 meeting took several steps toward regulating the location of recreational marijuana storefronts and wholesale grow centers. Although it must still approve an ordinance, the council appears to be moving toward allowing five recreational storefronts, an unlimited amount of wholesale cultivation centers and up to six plants for personal use at home, with only one allowed outdoors.

Mayor-elect Cathy Murillo said the city must allow marijuana storefronts on State Street.

“We have empty storefronts, we have empty commercial spaces,” she said. “I just don’t think the public and the business community are engaged enough to tell us if it is OK to have a marijuana storefront on State Street. We should be considering viable businesses that will help us.”

Murillo said that it is time for new thinking regarding State Street.

“We need to diversify from the tourist industry,” she said. “The recession has taught us that.

“Retail is changing. We need to do something different with our downtown. I really hope we can talk about the central business district and the Funk Zone as places where these activities can go.”

The issue spotlighted sharp differences between Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse, who opposed five separate votes to allow various forms of marijuana operations.

“Our job is to maintain and protect our community, not worry about some mythical amount of money that doesn’t exist yet,” Rowse said. “These promises of future tax revenue and what not are just promises. That number is not there.”

Rowse said the council’s focus on tax revenue was a “dereliction of our duties” and that it wasn’t serving citizens well.

He urged the city to approve a fulfillment center so that people could order by phone and have marijuana delivered.

“This is how most people get their products these days, as we know from our poor retailers downtown,” said Rowse, holding up his smartphone.

“Why go through the mess, the security, the problems, the regulations, the law enforcement issues that we have had to go through to create storefront dispensaries? Why not have a fulfillment center, a delivery type of system that’s potentially based in the commercial zone?”

Santa Barbara plans to charge a voter-approved 20-percent tax on cannabis sales, but has not yet publicly released a total amount of annual revenue it projects.

More pushback came from Councilman Jason Dominguez, who sought to block additional marijuana storefronts on Milpas Street. The city already has approved a medical marijuana dispensary on the street, and he noted the presence of elementary, junior high and high schools nearby. He also wanted to extend the state minimum distance from schools to 800 feet from 600.

Councilman Bendy White quickly shot him down.

“You are protecting your turf rather than looking at the city as a whole, and I would ask that we, you, would look at creating regulations that are a fit for the city as a whole,” he said.

“I don’t like the direction of people starting to protect their turf. That is the downside of whole district representation. I want each of you, us, to be looking at the city as a whole and taking care of all of our city.”

Mayor Helene Schneider agreed with White, saying an additional 200 square feet isn’t going to change much.

“You can’t stigmatize and legitimize the issue at the same time,” she told Dominguez. “I just don’t see the rationale of 800 feet in this area but not in other areas.”

The council voted 5-2 to allow retail operations in those areas, with Murillo, Schneider, White and Councilmen Gregg Hart and Frank Hotchkiss voting in favor and Dominguez and Rowse in dissent.

Most members of the public who spoke agreed that the city was headed in the right direction with its regulations, but offered some suggestions.

“Regarding personal marijuana cultivation,” resident Pete Dal Bello said, “I think it should only be grown indoors. Growing marijuana outdoors would lead to neighborhood problems, including stealing and violent behavior.”

Ray Mahboob, who owns several commercial properties in the 400 block of State Street and in the Funk Zone, opposed State Street retail pot shops.

“I don’t want to see anything on State Street,” he said. “I see a lot of family members walking up and down State Street, going to movie theaters, and ... (we should) maybe pick a different zone for that, maybe perhaps the Funk Zone, somewhere where it is primarily adults.”

Mahboob also suggested that marijuana sales take place through the use of crypto currency, such as bitcoins, since retail pot shops are cash-only businesses.

Murillo, however, said if the public doesn’t like the location of a marijuana store, there is a public process to oppose it.

“We have a robust design review process,” she said. “Look at the medical dispensaries, appeal to appeal to appeal, so there’s plenty of opportunity for people if they object to a storefront on State Street or any other kind of activity.

“People are watching and there’s a process if they don’t like something that is proposed.”

The council will meet on again on Dec. 5 to vote formalize the marijuana regulations.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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