Opinions Split Over Medical Marijuana

By chillinwill · Dec 4, 2009 ·
  1. chillinwill
    A community group is asking Los Olivos residents to resist any opening of a medical-marijuana dispensary in town, but a recent community meeting showed a diversity of opinion on the subject.

    Representatives of Preservation of Los Olivos ( POLO ) have asked people to write letters or attend the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday in Santa Maria to seek a moratorium or permanent ban on pot dispensaries.

    Santa Barbara County has no law to prohibit marijuana dispensaries, and rumors have circulated over the past several months about the possibility of such establishments opening in Los Olivos and Santa Ynez.

    A few residents who attended POLO's meeting Dec. 1 at the Grange Hall in Los Olivos said it was more fear-mongering than informational about the impacts of dispensaries on communities. It was attended by about 25 people.

    We came here wanting to hear different options and to discuss the issue rationally. What we saw tonight was a 'not in my backyard' and jumping from hot button to hot button to insert propaganda," said Laura Lord of Buellton.

    However, Dennis Shoen of POLO defended the presentation he had put together from his research on the impacts of pot dispensaries on communities.

    I wanted to understand what's involved with a dispensary, and we are concerned that they are a legal front for [illegal] dealing," Shoen said.

    In 1996, 56 percent of California voters approved Proposition 215, called the Compassionate Use Initiative, which allows marijuana to be used legally by qualified patients who receive a prescription from a doctor. It was the first statewide medical-marijuana voter initiative adopted in the nation.

    Under California law, a patient with a doctor's prescription for marijuana, or the patient's primary caregiver, can hold up to eight ounces of marijuana or possess six mature or 12 immature marijuana plants.

    The POLO meeting was scheduled because of a rumor that a pot dispensary might open next to the dance gallery in Los Olivos.

    A similar rumor about a possible opening in Santa Ynez circulated earlier this fall, but that building's landlord denied there were any such plans.

    Buellton, Solvang, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and other Central Coast cities have passed ordinances that temporarily prohibit the establishment of storefront dispensaries.

    However, unincorporated communities such as Los Olivos, Ballard and Santa Ynez are under the jurisdiction of the county, which has no ordinance to ban marijuana dispensaries.

    A marijuana dispensary could open in a building that is zoned for retail commercial use without any special permits, according to Kim Probert of the county planning department.

    Shoen cited reports from the California Police Chiefs Association in April this year that more than 50 percent of people who frequent the dispensaries are under 30 years old, and only 2 percent of those suffer from AIDS, which he said was the main reason for passing Proposition 215.

    Lord said that argument isn't valid because a number of people under 30 years old who suffer from diseases such as cancer and eating disorders are prescribed medical marijuana for pain management.

    There was no beginning or end of that study, and it was put together by a citizen group who made observations and submitted it to the police. I'm not sure what it proves," Lord said.

    Shoen also said that his research indicated an increase in crime such as burglaries, robberies and assaults near "cannabis clubs," and he said there are 22 dispensaries in Santa Barbara.

    Suzanne Riegle of Santa Barbara's planning and zoning department gave this summary of marijuana dispensaries inside Santa Barbara city limits:

    * Four nonconforming dispensaries will be allowed to stay in operation until March 24, 2011, and one of those has been permitted under the city's current ordinance;

    * Of five dispensaries that have been approved, one called Pacific Coast Caregivers LLC has opened, one is under construction and one is going through a plan check to receive a building permit.

    * The city has additional pending applications, and some dispensaries that have been identified through public complaints are subject to enforcement, Riegle said.

    The city is currently revisiting their ordinance and will be making changes in the near future," Riegle said.

    At the POLO meeting, audience member Brian Passaro argued that if cooperatives and dispensaries are not allowed to open legally, people will buy marijuana illegally.

    Whether you know it or not, there are drugs here already," Passaro said.

    However, POLO president Mark Herthel said medical-marijuana operations aren't welcome.

    The citizens will unite to drive out the dispensaries. This town has a history of fighting hard," Herthel said.

    The Board of Supervisors meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 East Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.

    Discussion of the dispensary agenda item most likely will begin around 11 a.m., according to the county clerk's office. The meeting will also be broadcast live on government access cable channels.

    Raiza Canelon
    December 3, 2009
    Santa Maria Times

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