After working hammer and tongs for nine months to create a tightly restrictive medical marijuana ordinance, consensus on anything resembling a passable measure eluded the Santa Barbara City Council once again. This Tuesday the council — after spending four hours locked in passionate, procedurally intricate debate — found itself unable to muster a five-vote majority on basic ordinance language and continued the public debate (a flash point for Santa Barbara’s cultural wars) for at least another two months. Councilmember Dale Francisco successfully argued that more time was needed to define what it means to be a “nonprofit collaborative,” as state law requires medical marijuana operations to be. To that end, the council will examine how dispensaries acquire the marijuana they provide, how one becomes a member of a collective, if there should be limits on the size of a collective, and if there should be a cutoff time after which new members are not allowed.
Under state law, dispensary operators are entitled to be paid for any expenses incurred on behalf of the collective and are also permitted a “reasonable income.” But the council will now wrestle with whether the big bucks now collected by many dispensary owners exceed what state law allows. Ironically, it was the council’s most conservative, free-market members — Francisco, Frank Hotchkiss, and Michael Self— who were most adamant about requiring dispensaries to meet the nonprofit collective definition. Although four members of the council disagreed, a five-vote supermajority is required to pass any proposed medical marijuana ordinance. With the council’s three conservatives holding tight, the other four were reluctantly forced to give ground.
However, the council appears to have agreed that the maximum number of dispensaries should be reduced to five, down from the seven agreed to by the council’s Ordinance Committee two weeks ago. One should be located near Cottage Hospital, agreed the council, and none will be allowed on the Mesa. And special care should be taken to create a buffer between any dispensaries and recovery facilities, such as the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter, the Rescue Mission, or Salvation Army. As usual, the discussion drew a large crowd of vocal advocates on both sides. Many speakers urged the council to ban dispensaries in Santa Barbara altogether, arguing they placed Santa Barbara’s teenagers too much in temptation’s way. Others, however, stressed marijuana’s unique medical attributes, insisting that those in need should not be forced to seek relief on the black market.