Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Santa Barbara Medical Marijuana News

Medical marijuana laws get continued scrutiny

By ERIC LINDBERG — Sept. 30, 2009

During their second attempt to beef up laws that regulate medical
marijuana dispensaries, Santa Barbara city leaders listened through
another lengthy session of public input before making decisions on
several of many issues that have cropped up due to the proliferation of
pot shops.

Along with agreeing that a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed to
operate in the city would be appropriate, members of the ordinance
committee moved toward requiring dispensaries that had been
grandfathered in under the current ordinance to conform with the
regulations within a shorter, six-month period.

However, time ran out before the committee could address other potential
changes to laws concerning pot shops. Some community members have asked
for stricter security, an increased buffer zone around schools and
parks, and a moratorium on new dispensaries, citing an increase in crime
and negative neighborhood impacts.

Others have urged city officials to protect access to medical marijuana
for those who legitimately use the drug to treat chronic pain and other

At least 15 dispensaries exist in the city, ranging from several that
have been approved by city officials but haven't opened yet to
others that are operating illegally. City leaders noted that it is
unclear if the current regulations are sufficient, as many of the pot
shops are operating outside the law.

"Our entire experience is with illegal dispensaries and ones that
are currently non-conforming, " Councilmember Das Williams said,
arguing that the city needs to speed up the process to get all
dispensaries operating under the current rules. "That's the only
way we can even tell if our regulation is good or bad."

That discussion spawned a proposal to shorten the period of time for
non-conforming dispensaries to get in step with the rules, and the
committee ultimately agreed to recommend that the full council drop that
timeframe down from 18 months to six months.

"Since we did try to craft a rational ordinance and since we are
trying to make more changes to that ordinance to make it better, I think
it's a reasonable change to reduce the amount of time the existing
nonconforming dispensaries have to come into conformance, "
Councilmember Dale Francisco said.

The committee also agreed that placing a cap on the overall number of
dispensaries citywide is a good idea and agreed that it would be making
a recommendation along those lines in the future, although the specifics
of that plan will likely be ironed out when the discussion continues in
the coming weeks.

"We do want a cap," Williams said, adding, "We may want to
parcel that out geographically. "

Responding to concerns expressed by residents of the lower Eastside
community, where several dispensaries have sprung up along Milpas and
Haley streets, he said a reasonable cap would certainly prevent any more
pot shops from opening along the Milpas Street corridor.

But for many who spoke during the public comment period, including
Superintendent Brian Sarvis of the Santa Barbara School Districts, there
are already too many dispensaries in that area.

"We would prefer that you shut down the Milpas corridor
altogether," Sarvis said, describing how a student told him
recently, "This stuff is becoming so easy to get we might as well
put it in our vending machines."

After continuing the hearing to a later date — which had yet to be
determined — Williams warned those in attendance that public comment
would likely be limited in the future unless geared toward a specific
part of the ordinance up for discussion.

"If we spend the whole meeting listening to your concerns, we
can't do anything to strengthen the regulations, " he said.

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