City Retreats on Pot Shops

Maximum Number of Dispensaries Allowed May Increase

In the face of almost certain defeat in federal court, Santa Barbara City Attorney Steve Wiley beat a quick retreat and urged the City Council’s Ordinance Committee to bestow legal status on two medical marijuana dispensaries deemed outside the scope of the city’s pot shop ordinance passed by the council last summer. If adopted by the entire council, this change would effectively increase the city’s maximum number of dispensaries from three to five.

Owners of the Green Well dispensary at 500 North Milpas Street and of the Green Light dispensary at 631 Olive Street sued City Hall, charging the council changed the rules upon which they relied — and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars — by passing a new ordinance last summer that effectively nullified the permits they obtained under the terms and conditions of the previous dispensary ordinance. Late last year, a federal judge ruled the two pot shops’ owners stood a strong chance of prevailing at trial and issued an injunction barring City Hall from closing the two dispensaries down. The judge cited the amount of money the owners had spent and found the six-month grace period the new ordinance allowed them to find new digs legally insufficient. Wiley got support from the three members of the Ordinance Committee to allow the two dispensaries to continue operating indefinitely, but as legal nonconforming uses.

Councilmember Grant House sought to include language that would extinguish the legal dispute between City Hall and the city’s oldest dispensary — Compassion Center at 2915 De la Vina Street — but in the face of Wiley’s strenuous opposition, House could find no allies. Wiley has ordered the Compassion Center closed on the grounds that it had gone out of business for more than 30 days since opening 11 years ago. This fact, he said, denied the De la Vina operation the legal standing needed to apply for a city permit. Compassion Center owner Patrick Fourmey insisted he never went out of business and claims he has the evidence to prove it. The matter is slated to go to trial.

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