The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county during last week’s meeting.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavignino made the motion to pursue a permanent ban after the board rejected the Santa Barbara and Montecito Planning Commissions’ recommendation to employ new zoning ordinances for its dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 in favor — with Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr casting the only vote in opposition — of a complete ban on the remaining operating facilities in the region.
The delegation is in response to the county’s upcoming moratorium for local dispensaries that expires Dec. 6. Approximately 30 percent of the counties in California have already implemented similar bans.
According to Farr, who made the motion to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendations, the board went beyond the meeting’s initial premise.
“It was not my job to not beg public discussion on the issue — I was certain that it already been bedded through all of city council,” Farr said. “If they had thought a ban was an appropriate alternative, they would have presented it. The fact that they didn’t, combined with the fact that we didn’t have the room packed with people asking for a ban … I felt pretty strong endorsement to go ahead and vote for the recommendation but the rest of my staff did not.”
The decision came just two days before the federal government issued a statement requesting all dispensaries across the state close their doors. The request conflicts with the 1996 Compassionate Use Act that ensures patients suffering from certain issues including cancer, AIS, chronic pain, arthritis and glaucoma have access to marijuana for medicinal use.
Despite the Act’s original purpose, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the storefronts have become centers for criminal activity.
“The Compassionate Use Act passed overwhelmingly — no one can deny that for folks who are ill and would like to have medical marijuana to help with illness it’s valid,” Carbajal said. “But the initiative didn’t have the guidance and structure to help communities throughout California and law enforcement officers to realize what the intent of that initiative was. Fraught with uncertainty and loopholes, it lent itself to exploitation.”
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said contradictions between local and state laws encouraged her to support the board’s decision.
“I would support a ban, 100 percent, and my reason is conflict of laws,” Gray said. “It makes absolutely no sense when you have got this many conflicts of laws to try to zone something for all of the wrong reasons. I totally support the idea of it, being if it’s a medicine, it should be prescribed. It should go through a pharmacy; it should be treated exactly as other kinds of medicine are.”
Local police have struggled to operate within the guidelines of the California Attorney General, according to Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department undersheriff Tim Peterson.
“That’s where we have a hard time doing our job in an efficient manner, because we’re in between a rock and a hard spot,” Peterson said. “The U.S. Attorney General has issued an opinion that any type of operation like this that deals with marijuana is inherently against federal law and we can’t deny that.”
County officials are investigating the effects the federal decision will have on local dispensaries.
According to Farr, the board will likely hear the recommendation to ban marijuana centers sometime in early December.
“There are any number of land uses that may be a problem to cite or may have enforcement issues,” Farr said. “But we generally don’t cut them off at the beginning and say we won’t have them at all.”