Medicinal marijuana ordinance returns to Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday

The City Council will vote on Tuesday whether to amend the current medical marijuana ordinance to correct what a federal judged found to be a possible violation of the due process rights of dispensary owners.

The Santa Barbara Patients’ Collective Health Cooperative, 500 North Milpas, filed a lawsuit against the city after deeming that the ordinance enacted in June 2010 went against their rights. Now, after a federal judge found that forcing the dispensary to close within six months was a possible violation, the City Attorney’s Office is recommending that the Council amend its law to allow the dispensary four years to move as opposed to six months. The dispensary would have to move by June 2014.

As stipulated in that 2010 ordinance, which made revisions to the previous ordinance enacted in March 2008, there are to be only five separate areas in town in which dispensaries can operate, and no greater than one dispensary is allowed per area.

And dispensaries must also follow specific rules regarding street-facing.

After those rules were imposed by the June 2010 ordinance, the Collective Health Cooperative was found to be in violation, their location not allowed according to the revision.

The location of another dispensary – the Greenlight Dispensary, 631 Olive Street – also made that dispensary nonconforming.

Greenlight’s lawsuit against the city is enjoined with that of Collective Health Cooperative, and the Council’s decision will apply to that dispensary as well.

Officials from both dispensaries declined to comment.

“Changing it from 180 days to the four years it seems a pretty clean fix to it,” said Councilmember Michael Self. “I know they [the dispensaries] are not going to be satisfied. They wanted an unlimited number [of dispensaries] and unlimited locations.”

Following the passage of the 2008 ordinance, the only three dispensaries in town to apply for and receive permits were the Collective Health Cooperative, the Greenlight Dispensary and Pacific Coast Collective.

The June 2010 ordinance simultaneously limited the total number of citywide dispensaries to three, including the aforementioned three that obtained permits following the 2008 mandate, and imposed new zoning restrictions.

So, although the June 2010 ordinance allowed for the inclusion of the Collective Health Cooperative, as well as the Greenlight Dispensary, it also put them into nonconforming status location-wise.

Enter the lawsuit.

The federal district court judge essentially said the city could not close them down, pending a full trial.

And a full trial is what the Council wants to avoid.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” said Mayor Helene Schneider. “We are basically trying to close this loophole as opposed to spending a lot of money on the lawsuit.”

Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss agreed with Schneider, deeming the amendment necessary for “saving taxpayer money.”

“It saves the city a whole ton of money,” he said. “We think that basically three or four years would be acceptable in court.”

That isn’t to say, though, that Hotchkiss is happy about the proposed amendment.

“[This is] not what any of us would prefer to do,” he said. “[Some of us] didn’t want any dispensaries here in the first place. The court has tied our hands.”

In the original March 2008 ordinance, enacted in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law, the Council mandated that dispensaries comply not only with strict zoning rules but also daily operational and security measures.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the Council’s intent is to limit the number of storefront dispensaries and not have them clustered all over town,” said Mayor Schneider. “It’s unfortunate that this ordinance has gone through so many reiterations over the years.”