The legally murky haze of rules and regulations surrounding Santa Barbara’s seven documented medical marijuana dispensaries got a whole lot easier to see through this week, as the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at clearing up issues ranging from permits and zoning to on-site consumption and universal performance standards. Even as federal drug agents working with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department raided a dispensary within city limits for the first time ever this past weekend, councilmembers voted in support of medicinal cannabis users. Moments before the motion passed with a 4-0 vote-Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmember Das Williams were absent-Councilmember Helene Schneider summed up the sprit of the day as “successfully finding the balance between providing legal access to necessary medicine for those who need it while also providing rules for being a good neighbor to those who dispense it.”
Spurred into action late last summer, when the number of dispensaries in town exceeded the number of Starbucks coffee shops, the City Council placed a six-month moratorium on new club applications at the request of several dispensary owners wishing to better define the legal landscape of their emerging industry. After all, at that time, one needed to do little more than apply for a business license in order to open up shop.
After brainstorming sessions at the staff level and in meetings of both the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Commission, an ordinance was proposed this week that, among other things, allows new clubs in commercially zoned areas on lower Milpas Street from Carpinteria Street to Canon Perdido, upper State Street from Calle Real to Calle Laureles, and on the Mesa within 1,000 feet of Meigs Road. Clubs are also prohibited from operating within 500 feet of any K-12 school, public park, or previously existing dispensary. Additionally, the ordinance outlaws on-site consumption of cannabis, save for THC-laced edibles eaten by employees; requires a background check on prospective business operators; mandates accurate and confidential patient records; and prevents the clubs from selling alcohol or marijuana paraphernalia. Also of note, the ordinance grants the power to approve business licenses to the city staff hearing officer and grants licenses indefinitely, as long as the location and ownership of the club remain the same.
According to city numbers, seven cannabis clubs are operating within city limits. (A recent Independent survey found 12, however.) When the bite of the new ordinance, specifically the zoning rules, is applied to them, only one, Hortipharm on upper State Street, will be in compliance, said project supervisor Danny Kato. Two others-Sacred Mountain on Parker Way and AMG on East Haley Street-are partially up to snuff. With all seven of these clubs essentially grandfathered in by the interim ordinance passed in the wake of the moratorium last fall, councilmembers placed an addendum on the new ordinance that gives existing clubs three years to resolve their non-conforming locations, so long as they follow all of the remaining new rules of engagement.
Patrick Fourmy-owner and operator of one of the city’s longest running dispensaries, The Compassionate Center-applauded the council’s efforts and urged councilmembers to enforce a “higher level of transparency” on all existing and future clubs. Pointing to a similar ordinance in Oakland, Fourmy stressed the importance of completely open financial books and full disclosure of income and expenses as a means of both weeding out “unethical” proprietors and keeping federal agents at bay.
The ordinance returns as formality to the council next week for final approval. “I’m sure that we will be tuning this over time,” noted Councilmember Dale Francisco in apparent reference to the lack of means for tracking how much medical cannabis is being dispensed and also the raid on the Pacific Greens dispensary this weekend. As of press time, the Sheriff’s Department remained mum on the topic, other than acknowledging its involvement in the action.