Less than four months old, Santa Barbara’s new-fangled Medical Marijuana Ordinance flashed its teeth for the first time last week, as two separate cannabis dispensaries found themselves in Superior Court facing potential shutdown. Charged with various forms of noncompliance, both Humanity and The Healing Center were in Judge Thomas Anderle’s courtroom on July 29 fighting injunction orders from Santa Barbara City Attorney Michelle Montez. In the end, Anderle agreed that both cannabis clubs appeared to be in violation of the newly minted regulations governing pot shops, though only The Healing Center’s shutdown was signed into reality, while Humanity’s case was continued to later this month.
Ratified this spring by a unanimous City Council, Santa Barbara’s medical cannabis codes brought a bit of clarity to the murky legal mess that long surrounded the several clubs operating within city limits. The ordinance outlines the permit process for hopeful dispensaries as well as what parts of town they are allowed to operate in. It was the latter that prompted the city’s injunction efforts last week as, according to Montez, “Both locations are in the wrong zones.” Humanity’s Bond Avenue location is less than 500 feet away from Santa Barbara Junior High School, while the Healing Center’s locale, at the corner of San Andres and Micheltorena streets on the Westside, is also not zoned for dispensaries. Further, both establishments allegedly bumbled the city application process to such a degree that Daniel Kato, the city employee responsible for issuing legal operating permits, was never contacted by the operator of either club.
That being said, nonconforming dispensaries open for business before the city imposed a temporary moratorium on cannabis clubs in fall 2007 could remain open up to three years-if they applied for “legal nonconforming” status with the city, something that, as Montez sees it, the clubs in question did not do. That’s not the entire problem though. As Montez put it, “Even if they applied properly, which they didn’t, they wouldn’t be permitted to operate because of their locations.”
Attorney Joe Allen, who represents both clubs, could not be reached by press time. It should be noted, however, that despite the injunction being served to the owners of the Healing Center at the end of last week, the club remained open for business Tuesday evening, August 5. Efforts to reach The Healing Center’s owners, Jose and Patricia Solis, failed. An employee said she was aware of the injunction, but “was not sure what exactly was going on.”
Meanwhile, rumors spread this week of an alleged meeting, scheduled for August 6, between landlords who rent their property to dispensaries, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Presumably related to a statewide letter-writing campaign early last fall in which Drug Enforcement Administration officials informed property owners of their potential criminal liability for leasing to medicinal marijuana operators, the meeting was neither confirmed nor denied by DA Christie Stanley. In her words, “I don’t know of any meeting. It doesn’t mean there isn’t one, there just isn’t one involving me.”
Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a national nonprofit dedicated to medical marijuana patients’ rights, said that his organization had also heard of the not-so-secret secret get-together. Hermes said that to the best of his knowledge, “It is the only one of its kind in the state,” but added that he heard it did not include local authorities and was taking place between “only a few property owners and federal officials.” Pointing to a recent rash of appellate court decisions upholding California’s medical marijuana laws despite their conflict with federal law, specifically a major victory in San Diego late last month, Hermes summed up the feds’ saber-rattling as just that. “I think the federal government is in its last throes in its fight again medical marijuana and is trying to do whatever it can to undermine our state’s laws.”