After working hammer and tong for nine months on a tightly restrictive medical marijuana ordinance, consensus on anything resembling a passable measure eluded the Santa Barbara City Council once again. This Tuesday, February 25, 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 “non-profit collaborative,” as state law requires medical marijuana operations to be. To that end, the council will examine how dispensaries acquire the marijuana they provide and how one becomes a member of a collective. They will also look at whether there are limits on the size of a collective and a cut-off 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 as well as a reasonable income. But the council will now wrestle with whether the big bucks now collected by many by 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 non-profit collective definition. Although four other members of the council did not agree with them, 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 forced to reluctantly give ground.
Councilmember Das Williams, the council’s most flamboyant progressive, was the most vocal in favor of taking action sooner rather than later. By delaying the adoption of an ordinance, he argued, the status quo—unsatisfactory to supporters of medical marijuana dispensaries as well as those who wanted an outright ban—will remain in place. But Francisco countered that it made no sense to process new operations until after the council defines what constitutes a non-profit collaborative.
Even with these daunting questions on the horizon, 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, and none will be allowed on the Mesa. 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 vocal of advocates on both sides. Many speakers urged the council to ban dispensaries in Santa Barbara altogether, arguing that 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.