The City of Goleta, responding to possible interference by the federal government, has placed a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, preventing the establishment of any new pot shops in town.
The ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the Goleta City Council Monday night, puts a 45-day ban on new dispensaries, with a possible 22-month extension built into the ordinance. Recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration has issued statements that it may increase crackdowns on pot shops on the grounds that they break federal laws. This recent action by the DEA has prompted city government officials statewide to consider their regulations on the dispensaries as well as to try and find ways to protect them from federal lawsuits.
Under this ordinance, new stores are not allowed; however, all current dispensaries may continue business as usual.
The rise of medical marijuana dispensaries began in 1996, when the voters of California passed Proposition 215, allowing the distribution and use of the previously illegal drug to those that need it for medical reasons. In 2004, Senate Bill 420 was passed, giving cities the right to draft and enforce their own regulations on the dispensaries.
However, the legislation goes against federal law, which states that all marijuana is illegal.
Goleta Mayor Pro Tempore Michael T. Bennett said he believes the controversy between the state and the federal government is a non-issue.
“Personally, I think this whole issue is much to do about nothing,” Bennett said. “The people of California have spoken. I wish the feds could see that and stop interfering.”
Most of the concern over the DEA comes in response to a letter the agency recently sent out to the property owners of all registered dispensaries. The letter was a warning to property owners and said that the federal government could seize their property and assets if the illegal activity continues.
In addition to dealing with the possibility of prosecution from the DEA, the city of Goleta could receive possible lawsuits from private citizens if they decide to ban the pot shops entirely.
According to California law, it is illegal to prevent California residents from obtaining medicinal marijuana. A group called the Qualified Patients Association recently brought a lawsuit against the city of Anaheim for putting a permanent ban on the dispensaries.
According to the city council report, Goleta currently maintains three confirmed dispensaries as well as a fourth unconfirmed shop. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara has over a dozen dispensaries.
Jennifer Nelson, representative for the Santa Barbara chapter of Americans for Safe Access, said she believes the large number of pot shops in Santa Barbara is in large part responsible for Goleta’s moratorium.
“This [ordinance] is a reaction to the proliferation of dispensaries in Santa Barbara,” Nelson said. “Santa Barbara went from three shops to 15 in a matter of a year. That’s a pretty big number for such a small city. Goleta is even smaller. They’re afraid of a similar trend happening in their city.”
However, the current moratorium is not Goleta’s first. The city council first enacted a moratorium on Aug. 6 of this year, but let the 45-day ordinance expire without any legislation being passed.
Bennett said he is relatively sure this trend will not continue with the current moratorium.
“The likelihood is high that the ordinance will be extended, most likely for the full length allowable, which is 22 months and 15 days in addition to the 45 days in the current ordinance,” Bennett said. “That gets us past the next federal election, which I believe will yield a new attorney general. This should bode well for us.”
Nelson said the moratorium may produce benefits for the city.
“It can be positive, they just have to enact proper regulations,” Nelson said. “The goal should be safe access and public safety. And just like Santa Barbara, [the Goleta City Council] wants to enact regulations. The dispensaries can only regulate themselves so much. There’s a lot that [city] regulations can do to help.”
Tet Fujioka, an employee at the local dispensary Santa Barbara Patients Group, located on upper State Street, is also in favor of the moratorium and said he recognizes the need for more regulation.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” Fujioka said. “There are way too many. Nineteen pot stores in Santa Barbara and Goleta is just too much. There are more pot stores than fast food stores.”