It took four lengthy hearings and plenty of public input, but members of Santa Barbara’s city ordinance committee finally have a set of recommendations on how to address growing concerns about the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
After another round of public comment yesterday, city leaders buckled down and hammered out a handful of recommendations ranging from a citywide cap on the number of dispensaries to enhanced security requirements.
“I think we’re making progress,” said Councilmember Das Williams, who chairs the committee. “We’re in the unique situation of having to deal with state and federal law that is in flux. It seems where the state and federal government is heading is to permit marijuana.”
As a result, he said the city is being forced to come up with a way to properly regulate the drug.
And ever since a particularly troublesome dispensary prompted complaints several years ago, city leaders have been struggling with the best way to ensure legitimate patients have access to medicinal marijuana while protecting neighborhoods from any negative impacts.
Despite placing a set of regulations on the books last year, city officials continued to receive waves of complaints about new dispensaries popping up in their neighborhoods. At the prompting of Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmember Dale Francisco, the ordinance committee took another look at the regulations.
Roughly nine hours of discussion later, the committee has put together 10 recommendations that officials are hopeful will address many of the community concerns expressed by dozens, if not hundreds, of residents who spoke during the course of the revision process.
“We’re tightening it up and going to see if it works,” Williams said. “If that’s not restrictive enough to essentially get rid of the bad actors in the marketplace, then we’ll look at tightening it up again.”
Chief among the new restrictions is a citywide cap of seven dispensaries with an additional limit of only one pot shop in each of seven designated areas. Those areas are upper State Street, De la Vina Street, Mission Street, Milpas Street, the Mesa, east downtown and west downtown.
Committee members also agreed to recommended cutting down the amortization period given to existing dispensaries that don’t comply with the regulations for one reason or another. Non-conforming shops will have to meet the new laws within six months or close, instead of the 17 months they previously had to comply.
“The real problem in my mind is you have a lot of dispensaries out there that existed before the regulations,” Williams said. “They’re not regulated in the way that we know is necessary in order to prevent problems. We needed to reduce the amount of time they were given to come into conformance.”
Other recommended regulations include a prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries in current mixed-use buildings with condos, a 1,000-foot prohibition around the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter, and the creation of an annual permit review process.
Ordinance committee members also agreed to give more discretion to the city’s staff hearing officer in considering applications for a medical marijuana dispensary permit.
“As it’s structure now, it’s very difficult to turn one of these applications down,” Francisco said.
As a result, the committee recommended changing the word “would” to “is likely to” when considering whether the dispensary would pose a nuisance to the neighborhood.
After hearing from community members concerned about marijuana being resold on the streets, members of the committee agreed to recommend establishing a list of people convicted of reselling medical marijuana. Any dispensary known to sell to those people would be subject to having its permit revoked.
Even as the discussion of specific details in the ordinance took place, Francisco said the city still needs to grapple with a much larger picture — how to deal with changing state and federal law relating to medical marijuana.
“The dispensary model itself, in my opinion, is in conflict with California state law,” he said, explaining that the Compassionate Use Act only provides for collectives or cooperatives that provide marijuana for legitimate patients.
He recommended bringing up the larger issue of figuring out which model to support — a for-profit storefront model or a nonprofit collective model — with the full council.
“Until that question is resolved, I have real doubts about the efficacy of what we’re doing here,” Francisco said.
Nonetheless, he largely supported the proposed changes, which will return to the ordinance committee in draft form for a final review before heading to the Planning Commission and on to the full City Council for possible approval.
By ERIC LINDBERG
October 21, 2009
The Daily Sound
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Officials develop new medical marijuana restrictions