With the ink barely dry on the City of Santa Barbara’s new draft medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, a group of community movers and shakers has announced its opposition to any dispensaries and called for an outright ban. Arguing that dispensaries pose a “public health threat to kids and businesses,” Fighting Back — an anti-drug and -alcohol nonprofit boasting a stellar board of community luminaries — called on City Hall to enact an outright ban. Medical marijuana dispensaries have been operating within city limits for the past 10 years, and Santa Barbara remains the only city within county limits to allow them. The City Council and its Ordinance Committee have spent countless hours and months revising the existing ordinance to limit the number of allowable dispensaries to no more than five and ensure they’re evenly distributed throughout the city. Two weeks ago, the council’s committee put the finishing touches on the new ordinance, which is expected to go to the council as a whole later this year after review by the Planning Commission.
The flyer announcing the Fighting Back press event, held this Wednesday at City College, was headlined, “Don’t Cannabis Our Kids.” It quoted acting district attorney Ann Bramsen, pointing out that medical dispensaries “are absolutely illegal under federal law.” It’s well known that California’s medical marijuana laws have conflicted with federal law since 1995, when California voters overwhelmingly endorsed Prop. 215, decriminalizing medical marijuana. Likewise, the flyer announced that Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez, a member of the Fighting Back board, would be present to call for a dispensary ban. Contacted by phone, Sanchez stated it would not be appropriate for him to participate in any event that would make it appear he was criticizing his employers, the City Council. Sanchez said he personally opposed dispensaries, but recognized that California voters had spoken. “Like a lot of people in law enforcement, we feel we shouldn’t have them,” he said. “But if my council says we should have a certain number, then I’m going to honor that.”
In a similar vein, the Downtown Organization (DO), which represents business owners in downtown Santa Barbara, sent the council a letter opposing the Ordinance Committee’s decision to allow any dispensaries downtown. “The difficulty we are currently facing with an abundance of unsavory non–law-abiding characters will be exacerbated by the easy access to these dispensaries,” wrote DO chief Dave Damiano. “This will only further discourage locals and tourists alike from patronizing the downtown corridor, which is the economic engine of the city.” The newest proposed ordinance language did create the possibility for a dispensary downtown, but only just barely. Thus far, the council has opposed an outright ban in deference to those arguing that dispensaries help people in genuine medical need obtain effective relief they could not otherwise get.