Responding to complaints from some Eastside and downtown residents that Santa Barbara’s medical marijuana dispensaries are out of control, the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to revisit the medical pot ordinance it approved barely a year ago. Four dispensaries predate the city’s ordinance and have been given three years to find new digs away from schools and establishments catering to young people. Four more have either been recently approved or are undergoing city review. Of the latter, two are within two blocks of each other on Milpas Street.
Several Eastside residents voiced concern that their neighborhood had become a dumping ground for Santa Barbara’s burgeoning pot trade. “If all of Oakland has only four [dispensaries] and I have five within walking distance of my house, this is nuts,” said Naomi Green, a 30-year resident of the Eastside. Approval for one of those-slated for the 500 block of North Milpas-has been appealed to the Planning Commission. While Green said she fully supports the California law making medical marijuana centers legal, others suggested the weed’s ingestion might be less salubrious than its supporters claim. City Hall was moved to begin drafting its ordinance in 2007 when Santa Barbara had more than 15 dispensaries. During the last days of the George Bush administration, the city’s ordinance was rendered moot; dispensaries went out of business in droves because Justice Department officials-contending that federal anti-drug laws trumped state laws legalizing medical marijuana-threatened dispensaries’ landlords with legal action. But shortly after President Barack Obama took office, the Justice Department changed course, and pot dispensaries are once again on the rise.
The topic is generating controversy elsewhere in Santa Barbara with what could be a precedent-setting court case in which Melanie More, a Goleta medical marijuana provider, is seeking compensation for allegedly abducted weed. Under California law, More lawfully possessed marijuana for both her and her patients’ use. In April 2007, her apartment lease was coming to an end, but she claims she and her landlord had agreed to an extension. During this time, she went on vacation, and while gone, her landlord, Larry Cobb, had her apartment interior repainted. Much of More’s property was placed in storage, but two duffel bags of marijuana and money-a total value of $65,000-disappeared.
According to a suit filed by More, she returned to discover her property was gone and immediately asked for it back. But Cobb allegedly refused, saying the painter, Carl Braden, was responsible. While More is alleging Braden and some of his employees entered the apartment and stole the duffel bags, Braden claims they threw away the duffel bags. More is now suing both her landlord and the painting company.
Janet McGinnis, who is representing More, said she is not aware of any other cases where a plaintiff has sued to recover money for marijuana loss. Though the alleged incident took place in 2007, McGinnis waited to file the lawsuit anticipating that newly elected President Obama, who took office in January 2009, and Attorney General Eric Holder would make the prosecution of marijuana cases a low priority, which they ultimately did. The two sides were back in court Wednesday morning for a hearing as they proceed toward trial.
Finally, on the less licit side of pot cultivation, Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Forest Service officials on Friday eradicated 25,102 marijuana plants being grown in Los Padres National Forest. The plants, estimated as having a street value of $75 million, were spotted north of East Camino Cielo Road in Blue Canyon during a routine surveillance sweep. No suspects have been apprehended. Sheriff’s spokesperson Drew Sugars encouraged hikers who encounter evidence of illegal marijuana grows to leave the area immediately and report the location to law enforcement.
Additional reporting by Chris Meagher and Ben Preston.