The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a ban on all medical marijuana dispensaries in the county at its Tuesday meeting after months of deliberation and failed alternate proposals.
The board voted 4-1 to prohibit storefronts in unincorporated areas of the county after placing a temporary moratorium on local dispensaries in January 2010. The decision follows a series of unsuccessful proposed alternatives, including recommendations from the County Planning Commission and the Montecito Planning Commission — two branches of Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department — that would allow up to seven facilities for use by those with Conditional Use Permits.
According to Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who cast the sole dissenting vote, the decision inadvertently sets a precedent for future land use decisions.
“I think it’s important to remember that this is a land use issue … and as far as I know, the county has never banned a land use before that appears to be legal in the state,” Farr said. “We have any number of land uses that can be very difficult to site and very problematic to enforce, but we haven’t banned those. I hope that this is not the start of a slippery slope.”
Additionally, Farr said the ban prevents future community input regarding the legality of dispensaries.
“The public won’t have an opportunity to continue discussion on a controversial issue,” Farr said. “I’ve always felt strongly that it was my job to encourage public discussion on land use issues — particularly if they’re as controversial as this is — and not to muzzle [them].”
Discussion over locally-regulated medical marijuana began after California passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, granting patients access to pot with a doctor’s recommendation. The debate spiked again in 2003 when the newly-established Medical Marijuana Program created medical marijuana identification cards for qualified patients and caregivers.
According to Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, the disparity between federal and California laws regarding medicinal marijuana storefronts influenced her decision to support the ban.
“I think it would have been irresponsible for me to have move forward even on seven [dispensaries] when I knew it was in conflict with the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Wolf said. “It’s not a perfect solution, but I feel very confident in moving forward with the ban as we have it in front of us.”
The regulation affects only storefront service centers and allows medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives to continue operations.
According to medical marijuana patient Dee Wingo, those with medical cards depend on marijuana to treat various physical and psychological illnesses.
“The people of California have voted that they see medical marijuana as a viable alternative to many ailments,” Wingo said. “I was morbidly obese, I was on anti-depressants [and] two different kinds of blood pressure medicines … then I started taking medical marijuana. I lost 40 pounds. I know that doesn’t fit with the stereotypical lazy, stony person, but I take it for depression; it gets me up when I’m down. There’s nothing wrong with being up when you’re down.”
The board’s decision to pursue a permanent ban will force the drug’s distribution further underground, according to Wingo.
“No access is not safe access,” Wingo said. “The law that we the people voted for has alternatives to storefronts; that is, patient-to-patient direct … giving for fair reimbursement of medicine. Is this the way you want it to be handled in this community? Because that is exactly what happens when you close down the storefronts. When you take it out of your hands, it will be back it the hands of the people. You will have no control over it.”