If the sign of a good compromise is general discontent on all sides, Santa Barbara city leaders may have finally reached an accord on the hazy issue of medical marijuana dispensaries.
With only one councilmember voting in dissent, the council passed a set of revised regulations yesterday that further restrict the operation of marijuana shops in town. Under the new rules, only three dispensaries will be permitted and they must operate as true nonprofit collectives, among other restrictions.
In order to garner the necessary five votes to pass the new regulations, the council agreed to vote next week to place an outright ban of dispensaries on the November ballot at a cost of $40,000.
“I think it’s the best solution to get some final closure on this,” Mayor Helene Schneider said.
Despite reaching the deal after a series of heated hearings during recent months, city leaders continued to spar over the merits of city regulations versus a ban on dispensaries.
Councilmember Dale Francisco reiterated a common message he has hammered home throughout the raging debate on medical marijuana shops — specifically that state law only allows cultivation and possession of marijuana by legitimate patients and their primary caregivers.
“It has never allowed, nor contemplated, retail marijuana sales,” he said, arguing that the city could have solved the issue long ago by taking the “common-sense solution” of an outright ban.
In customary form, Councilmember Das Williams fired his own barbs at the concept of a ban, noting that other locales that have prohibited storefront operations are being inundated by marijuana delivery services.
“A ban will chase collectives back out into the neighborhoods,” he said, holding up several newspapers from neighboring regions with advertisements for marijuana deliveries. “Whatever the material intention of a ban is, it’s not working in Ventura.”
However, he said the compromise appears to be the “least wrong” option for the city to pursue.
Under the new laws, which will go into effect 30 days after being officially adopted next week, dispensary operators would be allowed to distribute cannabis to qualified patients and primary caregivers who live within Santa Barbara County.
Storefront operators would have to keep membership and financial records, and must meet strict nonprofit standards. In addition to establishing buffer zones around schools and parks, the regulations would prohibit shops from opening within 500 feet of major drug and alcohol recovery centers.
Along with other storefronts that had been “grandfathered in” under prior laws, two city-permitted dispensaries currently operating on the Eastside would have to relocate or close within six months.
Sefton Graham, who operates one of those dispensaries — the Greenlight Collective, 631 Olive St. — said legitimate patients will be robbed of safe access to their medication as a result.
“It’s a de facto ban,” he said, noting that it took him a year and three months to receive his current permit. “We would move if we thought there was somewhere to go.”
City officials had previously planned to pare down the number of dispensaries operating on the Eastside through attrition, as only one storefront will be allowed in any given geographical area of the city under the new laws. But leaders changed that regulation as part of their last-minute horse trading, instead requiring the two dispensaries to reapply for a permit.
Graham said he operates as a true nonprofit with a focus on compassion instead of revenues, and has never had any issues with local law enforcement.
In voting against the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Grant House cited the impact of the regulations on Graham and the operators of the Green Well, at 500 N. Milpas St., and argued the laws would penalize the two dispensaries that have been working in good faith with the city.
By ERIC LINDBERG
June 23, 2010