Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Council Moves Forward with Allowing Marijuana Dispensaries

In the end, as with most policy discussions, it came down to compromise.

After more than four hours of public comment and discussion, the Santa
Barbara City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to move forward with the
Ordinance Committee’s recommendations for revising the
city’s ordinance on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The council needed five votes to take action on the nearly yearlong
ordeal of revising the ordinance, originally adopted in 2008, and
members threw ideas for compromise around since the alternative most
likely would mean months more of deliberation â€" leading to the
same lack of consensus.

Though some community members have pushed for a ban all along, that
opinion has become louder recently, and a motion to send the Ordinance
Committee back to work on a ban failed in a 4-3 vote.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, who made the motion, eventually provided the
fifth vote to move forward with the recommendations put forth by him and
fellow Councilmen Grant House and Bendy White.

House, Councilman Das Williams and Mayor Helene Schneider were against
considering a ban, so it became a mission of maneuvering to get two more
votes to their side in last-minute changes if any action was to be

The frustration over the situation was obvious. After months of work,
community input and ever-changing specifics, people came forward during
public comment to say the ordinance revisions were not what they wanted,
and in some cases, that meant they supported an outright ban.

Santa Barbara School District Superintendant Brian Sarvis has presented
and reiterated the school board’s recommendations of requiring
1,000 feet between the storefronts and schools, limiting hours and other
student-related measures. On Tuesday, he said the proposed ordinance
“doesn’t protect kids and doesn’t protect
schools†by excluding those suggestions, so he supported a total

All along, the discussion â€" and Ordinance Committee’s task
â€" has focused on making stricter restrictions for the ordinance
to give the city enforcement power and to try, as much as possible, to
put safeguards in place against illegal activity and abuse.

The council voted to go ahead with the Ordinance Committee’s
recommendations, including a citywide cap of five and specific
record-keeping and member requirements.

In her motion, Schneider proposed changing the 500-foot requirement from
schools to 600 feet â€" the same as liquor stores â€" making
membership and cultivation limited to Santa Barbara County, eliminating
the downtown area as a possible location, requiring a 24-hour waiting
period and having applicant appeals go through the Planning Commission
then City Council.

The Rally

A rally held in De la Guerra Plaza before Tuesday’s council
meeting quickly turned ugly, as the recent Planning Commission
recommendation of a ban brought out passionate people on both sides of
the issue.

The news conference was put on by a pro-ban coalition made up of
citizens, substance abuse treatment organizations and school officials,
but dozens of medical marijuana patients and supporters came out against
the ban in what resulted in a nasty exchange.

The microphone was dominated by those who spoke of the harm allowing
marijuana storefronts â€" even for medical use â€" could do in
the community, given the chance for abuse and criminal activity. The
benefits for legitimate patients were outweighed by the risks, some

Members of substance abuse treatment organizations spoke about the harm
to children especially, while opponents screamed about the dangers of
pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol, saying they are arguably as available,
if not more, to young people.

Whenever someone mentioned a ban, the crowd exploded into deafening
shouts of “Bull****!†and “That’s your

While the group argued they weren’t trying to “take away
your marijuana,†as one woman put it, the patients in attendance
shouted that a ban would severely decrease their access.

SBCC President Andreea Serban said the storefronts send a mixed message
to students and make educators’ jobs more difficult, and the
crowd was quieter as she spoke.

The microphone was promptly turned off when the last person spoke, and
opponents of a ban were left milling around the steps of City Hall as
few went inside to speak during public comment. Many were frustrated at
not getting a chance to speak.

Holding a hand-drawn sign that read “Have a heart, let patients
spark,†medical marijuana patient Charles Mikich said a ban would
create difficulties for many people, as not everyone can grow it. He
also talked about how pharmaceutical drugs are pushed on children, a
common theme among those who came out against the ban, and that
marijuana had safer, legitimate medical advantages.

He and his wife, Alexis, said they support a requirement for the
storefronts to be located 1,000 feet from schools, but that children can
walk right into a pharmacy and steal off the shelves, vs. not being able
to even get in the door of a collective storefront.

“You can’t blame marijuana for bad parenting,†he

The Meeting

Once inside the Council Chambers, the hostility of the rally was left
behind and the general gist of public comment was the same as it has
been â€" mostly in favor of either a ban or the revised ordinance.

For the first time, members of the Police Officers Association and
attorney general candidate and Assemblyman Pedro Nava came forward to
support a full ban, though Nava made his announcement in letter form.

JC Hunter of the Santa Barbara Police Department said officers have been
encountering more driving under the influence arrests because of
marijuana use, with dispensary pill bottles and receipts found in the
cars, and party calls now consist of people sitting around smoking pot,
not just alcohol consumption. He said problems concerning the misuse of
marijuana spread out into the community at large.

The enforcement responsibility for police officers also was widely
discussed, as they have their hands full shutting down the illegal
dispensaries already identified.

Arguments over the legality of the storefronts and the medical need for
marijuana once again surfaced, but the discussion eventually came down
to the essential question on which city leaders hadn’t yet come
to a consensus: Does the city want to allow these storefront collectives
to exist, and if so, how much restriction should be placed on them?

House, White, Hotchkiss and Williams have all tackled the revisions
through work on the Ordinance Committee, as has vocal dissident and
Councilman Dale Francisco, so all were at least partly responsible for
the recommendations put forth Tuesday. During the past few months,
Schneider has expressed her support for the more restrictive ordinance

Councilwoman Michael Self, new to the council and not a member of the
Ordinance Committee, hadn’t had the opportunity to speak at
length about the issue until Tuesday. She voted against the motion.

The proposed ordinance, with Tuesday’s last-minute additions, is
likely to go before the council for introduction and adoption in two

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