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Local News

Santa Barbara Temporarily Bans Recreational Marijuana Businesses Ahead of Legalization Vote

With the legalization of marijuana in California appearing increasingly likely, the city of Santa Barbara on Tuesday issued a temporary ban on recreational marijuana businesses for the purpose of studying their potential local effects before they can open.

The citywide ban, an interim emergency zoning ordinance, was enacted by a unanimous vote of the City Council.

“I think it’s prudent to put a moratorium in place so that we can figure out how we might regulate these kinds of sales and storefronts, possibly,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said.

The ordinance comes two months before California votes on whether to legalize marijuana via Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is increasingly expected to pass.

The emergency ordinance required the city to determine that non-medical marijuana businesses could pose an immediate threat to public health and safety, and required a four-fifths vote of the council, which translates to six out of the seven.

With Councilman Bendy White absent, city staff encouraged a unanimous vote, since the law is ambiguous about whether a four-fifths threshold would still apply to an incomplete council.

The safety issues the city will study, City Attorney Ariel Calonne told the council, are not those that could arise from pot itself, but from the business and transaction side.

Of particular concern are the potential impacts related to where those businesses would set up shop in the city, such as the effects of having such a business near a school.

Land-use-related impacts could be as simple, for instance, as concerns over the availability of parking when a new business moves in, city staff said.

“What we will be looking at in the next year or two would be identifying locations and activities that would be permissible, regulated or prohibited, and under which zoning and under which conditions,” city planner Andrew Bermond told the council. “That’s a community discussion that hasn’t happened yet.”

Though marijuana-related council-meeting items typically draw a large and energetic presence from the public, no speaker slips were submitted for public comment.

Though the ban is only in effect for 45 days, the council has the ability to extend it for up to two years on Oct. 18 with another four-fifths vote.

A few of the council members hinted at support for the full-two-year extension, which Mayor Helene Schneider said would grant “maximum flexibility” for studying the issue and developing an ordinance regulating recreational pot.

Schneider said that, like the process that went into developing the city’s medical-marijuana-dispensary ordinance, drafting a city ordinance regulating non-medical-marijuana businesses would involve many public hearings and opportunities for the public to give their input.

The new ban does not have any effect, however, on medical-marijuana dispensaries, three of which are permitted in the city, provided they’re in separate areas.

Bermond said that recent polling has shown support for legalization at around 60 percent, with opposition around 35 percent.

If passed, the proposition would permit recreational businesses to open immediately in designated commercial zones, impose a statewide 15-percent excise tax, and allow for the cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, possession, sale, purchase, testing and transport of marijuana in certain amounts for those 21 and older.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act would also allow local governments to regulate and tax marijuana activities, but prohibit them from banning indoor cultivation for personal use.

On Nov. 8, Santa Barbarans will be voting not only on that proposition, but whether marijuana should be taxed by the city as well.

In June, the council voted to put a 20-percent tax on the gross receipts of both recreational and medical marijuana on the ballot.

That vote was also a unanimous one declaring the action an emergency measure.

The justifications the city drafted for the tax include insufficient funds for its capital, operating, and reserve needs; extra funding being required to ensure dispensaries’ compliance with relevant laws; and extra funding being required to ensure the protection of public health and safety should recreational pot be legalized.

The measure requires a simple majority of votes to pass, and revenues would go toward general city services, including those dealing with the regulation of the local marijuana industry.

The city estimated a very rough $2.2 million in annual revenue from the 20-percent rate, which could be lowered in the future by the council.

That total will be about half that, though, if either the Adult Use of Marijuana Act fails or it passes but the city extends its recreational pot prohibition.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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