The Santa Barbara City Council took a few small but definite steps on Tuesday toward capping the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to operate within city limits and ensuring that they’re evenly distributed throughout the city.

A majority of the council’s Ordinance Committee agreed that there should be a limit placed on the number of dispensaries allowed, though what that number will be and the basis for setting it remained unclear. In addition, the committee agreed to require legal but nonconforming pot dispensaries-businesses in place before the city ordinance went into effect-to meet the city’s requirements within six months. There’s only one dispensary in operation at the moment that meets the city’s ordinance, but it hasn’t been in business long enough to determine how effective the existing regulations are. Two more dispensaries have been approved but have yet to open; four more, which preceded the city’s ordinance, will have to move or go out of business because they’re too close to a school or park.

The council chambers were packed for the hearing. Supporters of medical marijuana argued that if dispensaries were regulated out of business, people in true need would be denied safe access to necessary medication. Although Councilmember Dale Francisco advocated enacting a moratorium on new dispensaries, councilmembers Grant House and Das Williams opposed the idea. School superintendent Brian Sarvis similarly called for a moratorium, claiming that medical pot was so easily accessible that one student told him it may as well be sold in the Santa Barbara High School vending machines. Councilmember House questioned Police Captain Armando Martel whether there was evidence linking criminal behavior to the dispensaries. Martel said no such information existed. Yet many Eastside residents continue to complain that Milpas Street had become the repository for dispensaries and a magnet for crime and delinquency.

Correction: Brian Sarvis did not advocate for a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries at this Tuesday’s city council. He advocated for such a moratorium two weeks ago, but has since shifted his position. He is now pushing City Hall to close down medical dispensaries close to Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara Junior High School.


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