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Santa Barbara Council Clarifies Medical Marijuana Policies

Ordinance outlines where pot dispensaries can be located and decrees no lighting up inside.

Santa Barbara’s medical marijuana situation just got a little less hazy.

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance outlining where medical pot dispensaries can and cannot exist, and mandating that all of them stop allowing people to light up inside.

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.

Tuesday’s decision comes five and a half months after the council ordered a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries.

Last year, the medical marijuana situation in Santa Barbara got out of hand. First, the number of dispensaries mushroomed dramatically, to 20 from 10. Then, a summer DEA sweep scared 16 of the 20 into closing, said Danny Kato, a city zoning and enforcement supervisor.

As a result, the Council in October issued the moratorium, which essentially barred any new dispensaries from popping up, and outlawed any existing ones that were operating without a business license.

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.

However, Kato added that Sacred Mountain’s violation of the boundary-line aspect of the new ordinance is merely technical. The ordinance says dispensaries cannot be located within 500 feet of public parks. Sacred Mountain happens to be too near a park, but the dispensary and the park are separated by Highway 101, he said. He added it’s too early to tell whether Sacred Mountain would qualify for an exemption.

City Councilman Grant House, who sat on the Ordinance Committee that crafted the proposal, said most of the complaints about the local dispensaries centered on the use of pot at the locations.

“We took that away,” he said. “We don’t want a whole bunch of odor floating out into the neighborhoods.”

Patients also are not allowed to take THC pills on the premises, although that rule exempts employees with prescriptions.

Just a handful of medical marijuana advocates attended the meeting Tuesday. Those who spoke were mostly supportive of the council’s decision.

“I thank you for being so progressive and proactive,” said Patrick Fourmy, who said he is affiliated with the Compassion Center.

Fourmy warned that the Drug Enforcement Administration was making its rounds in Santa Barbara again this week. Noozhawk reached DEA official David Sheets at his Camarillo office, but he referred the call to a DEA spokeswoman, who could not be reached Tuesday night.

Although legal in California, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is not considered legal under federal law.

The Compassion Center was one of the first dispensaries in Santa Barbara, but last year’s DEA sweep scared it into closing its locations on De la Vina and Milpas streets, Kato said. Sometime after the dust settled, the center reopened on Outer State Street, but without the proper permits, he added.

The Compassion Center and the other three facilities that most likely must close down can reopen after obtaining the proper permits and relocating to an appropriate area, Kato said. The permitting process alone can take at least 10 weeks.

Although the Compassion Center is located in an area that allows dispensaries, the ordinance also prohibits dispensaries from existing within 500 feet of one another, and the Compassion Center is just a couple of doors down from Hortipharm.

City Councilwoman Iya Falcone asked staff why the prohibition didn’t take into account pre-schools.

Kato answered that pre-school-aged children — unlike junior high and high school students — typically do not walk to and from school.

“I have heard anecdotes where kids are hanging outside and asking at the door ‘Hey will you help me buy some pot?’” said Kato, adding that that is the kind of thing the ordinance is trying to prevent.

The council approved the ordinance on a 5-0 vote. Mayor Marty Blum and Councilman Das Williams were absent.

Specifically, the centers can exist on:

• Outer State Street, between Calle Laurels and Calle Real

• Milpas Street, from Highway 101 to Canon Perdido

• Within 1,000 feet of Cliff Drive and Meigs Road

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