Warranted or not, the reputation of medical marijuana dispensaries is not the type of thing you would want to bring home to Mom. They peddle the forbidden herb, they attract crime, they put pot in the hands of teenagers, and, above all else, they ruin neighborhoods. But medical marijuana is a reality, voted into existence in 1996 by an overwhelming majority of California voters, who believed in the powerful medicinal qualities of the prohibited plant. There are certainly clubs-including some right here in Santa Barbara-that fit the boogey-man bill, and then there are others that represent the spirit of compassion and care behind Proposition 215. Considered by many to be a prime example of the latter since it first opened in West Hollywood in 2004, The Farmacy, owned by Carpinteria resident and certified clinical pharmacist JoAnna LaForce, is now trying to make its way to downtown Santa Barbara. However, despite an approval at the staff level of the city’s Planning Commission last week, things aren’t going smoothly.
Hoping to make the 700 block of Chapala Street its home (across from the Paseo Nuevo mall, wedged between two popular restaurants and beneath the Paseo Chapala apartments), The Farmacy would become Santa Barbara’s most visible and most accessible dispensary. But the location is anything but ideal for the folks living in the 29 Paseo Chapala apartment units. For them, the idea of having a medical marijuana storefront as their downstairs neighbor is not the type of mixed-use environment they signed up for when they moved into the commercial and residential structure. Paseo resident Geoff Roland summed up his thoughts on his potential neighbor at last week’s hearing, “The bottom line is they are a nuisance type of business. They bring a certain element with them, and we don’t get to go home at the end of the day and leave The Farmacy-we have to live with it 24 hours a day.”
Several of Roland’s neighbors expressed similar sentiments during the hearing, and John Campanela, the homeowners’ association president, confirmed in the wake of last Wednesday’s approval that they intend to appeal the ruling to the city’s planning commission later this month. (It should also be noted that a representative for the commercial interests in the building spoke in favor of the club.) Ironically, in a bit of a catch-22 for The Farmacy owners, their approval was granted with the condition that they install security cameras in the building’s parking lot or hire a third security guard to patrol the shared lot during business hours. The condition may prove hard to meet, as the homeowners’ association has the final say (which, Campanella says, they have no intention of waiving) over any structural changes to the lot.
But the debate over whether or not a mixed-use building is an appropriate site for a cannabis club-something which is actively being wrangled over at the city’s Ordinance Committee as they try and put more bite into the city’s dispensary laws-is really only half the story. Whereas most dispensaries in Santa Barbara are cannabis-only affairs, The Farmacy is a hybrid of sorts, offering hundreds of other types of herbs as well as the services of on-site herbalists, nutritionists, and acupuncturists. According to LaForce, the club’s floor space would be roughly 75 percent non-cannabis products. “The idea is to have a fully integrated pharmacy that provides holistic, global medicine for local people,” said LaForce. “Cannabis is only one part of that formula.” In fact, many of those who spoke at last week’s meeting, including more than a few “opponents,” testified to the organization’s compelling business model. “I truly believe that marijuana is going to be legal in the next couple of years, but I don’t want it in a 7-Eleven or a liquor store. It is a medicine, and it needs to be in a pharmacy with professionals,” explained LaForce.