While decrying the insufficiency of the facts at hand to do so, the Goleta City Council Tuesday evening voted unanimously for an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries.
The council voted with the intent that ensuing discussions would eventually result in regulation of the distribution of medical marijuana, rather than prohibition. But facing the upcoming expiration of a 22-month-old city moratorium on the establishment of such dispensaries, and what appeared to be the members’ lack of preparation about how to best dispense medical marijuana, the council backed the prohibition, although the vote may be temporary.
“There’s too much to discuss, there’s too much for the public to discuss,” Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves said. “And what’s going to happen is, that if we don’t come to an agreement by Aug. 30, we have to accept applications from anyone that wants to sell medical marijuana.”
The heart of the matter, according to City Attorney Tim Giles, is the conflict between the state and the federal government on the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries. California allows for such establishments, while the U.S. government does not.
Currently, only the city of Santa Barbara and the unincorporated county allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. Carpinteria and Solvang prohibit them, while Lompoc and Santa Maria have moratoriums in place.
For the most part, the council argued against the ordinance as it was initially presented, disagreeing with the staff report based on a white paper from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which concludes that the presence of marijuana dispensaries led to an increase of crime in the area.
“I suppose we could go on quite a rampage,” surmised Councilman Michael Bennett, noting that other establishments – liquor stores, gun shops – might also trigger an increase in crime. Councilman Eric Onnen, meanwhile, also remained unconvinced that the anecdotal white paper contained enough evidence to prohibit the business of selling medical marijuana. Councilwoman Margaret Connell voiced concern about the loss of access for patients who could not grow their own supply, one of the few ways medical marijuana would be allowed to be dispensed.
One of the evening’s most emotional arguments came from local resident, a 27-year-old grad student who suffers from Crohn’s disease, a debilitating gastrointestinal disease that he said required him to take morphine for 14 months. The man told the the council that he felt suicidal from the pain and use of opiates before his doctor and nurses recommended marijuana as a way to find relief.
“Please don’t take it away from me,” he wept on his knees before the City Council.
The vote for prohibition, however temporary, was not good news to Mark Russell, the operator of a licensed medical marijuana cooperative establishment in Goleta called Grass Roots Research. Russell said he has 16 patients to whom he gives the drug; any excess, he explained, he sells to other licensed establishments.
While the council tried to make sure his ability to do business was not impaired, Russell argued that a ban on medical marijuana establishments would make it near impossible for him to relocate his business from his home into a commercial site. He opened the dispensary in 2005, but as the law since has been hazy regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, he has found it difficult to work with the city to establish a designated facility from which to operate.
“Do I have hope this will work out?” he asked. “The current moratorium has been in effect for 22 months. (Staff) never had any intentions of regulating. They waited until the last minute to put the city council in a position where time was an issue, and it’s just not fair.”
The ordinance comes before the council again June 16 for a second reading.
— Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at email@example.com.