Monday, July 30, 2007

City ponders dispensary rules


A recent outcry by some community members against medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Barbara has local officials pondering changes to how those businesses are allowed to operate.
A moratorium on new pot dispensaries and stricter regulations for those currently doing business should be up for discussion by the City Council in a few weeks, city officials said.
Local residents said dispensaries located near residential areas are attracting criminals and gang members. Several owners of pot dispensaries in town said they provide a service to the community and are doing everything in their power to make their shops as safe and secure as possible.

“You can open a dispensary next to a school, or any place like that,” Mayor Marty Blum told the Daily Sound. “...One of the marijuana dispensaries is a block away from a teen center.”
While Mayor Blum said she has no problem with the medical use of marijuana, she is worried about the clientele as well as the growing number of dispensaries in Santa Barbara.
“I think there are some questionable recommendations out there from a few doctors,” Mayor Blum said. “...I don’t think we have enough of the kind of patients I’m thinking of in this town to support 10 dispensaries with more opening. We’ve got to clamp down on that.”
Possible guidelines up for discussion include limiting operating hours, regulating where dispensaries can be built, and prohibiting onsite consumption and loitering near the shops, Mayor Blum said. The concept of a conditional use permit is likely to come up, she said.
If a moratorium is approved, dispensaries already in business will remain open, Mayor Blum said, granted they are operating legally.
Glen Mowrer III, founder of the ACME Collective at 211 W. Victoria St. that has raised much of the furor in the community, said he is only trying to offer an affordable service to his patients.
“I provide a low-income service to the community, not to a select few who can afford the prices [at other dispensaries],” Mowrer told the Daily Sound.
Mowrer said he believes his neighbors and those community members upset about his location have issues with the low-income people he serves. He dismissed the idea that his shop is attracting any more criminals than any other business might.
“In essence, anywhere there is money, there is going to be crime,” Mowrer said. He said although he doesn’t have a security guard or a locked door, he keeps an eye out to make sure access is safe and that people aren’t selling his marijuana to friends out on the street.
Following the stabbing death of a teenager in the same neighborhood a few weeks ago, several community members told the City Council that the dispensary, located near a dance studio and a teen center, is a threat to the community. Calls to law enforcement officials to determine if they view the dispensary as a public safety issue were not returned.
Councilmember Helene Schneider, who along with Mayor Blum and Councilmember Grant House is bringing the issue to the Council agenda, said she hasn’t seen evidence that crime is on the rise in that area, but believes potential regulations on marijuana dispensaries needs to be addressed.
“I think the bottom line is we want to make sure the public health and safety is protected,” Councilmember Schneider said. She said to open a dispensary, owners simply have to obtain a business license from the city.
“We do have regulations on adult centers, adult bookstores, strip clubs, that sort of thing,” she said. “But there is not state mandate or regulations on dispensaries.”
Mowrer said he is only opposed to bad regulations that will negatively affect his patients, and is open to working with the community and the city to make his business as safe as possible. A manager at Helping Hands Wellness Center at 4141 State St. said he doesn’t believe regulations will seriously affect his business at all.
“We don’t really ever come across any problems,” said J.C., who preferred not to give his last name. He said his club is not located in a residential area, has security outside during business hours and strictly screens its customers. As far as the growing number of dispensaries, he said there already are too many in town.
“A few is cool,” J.C. said. “We don’t need more than maybe a handful.”
Mowrer said other dispensaries in town try to keep their competition to a minimum to drive up prices, while his collective, which operates as a nonprofit organization, is trying to make medical marijuana affordable for everyone who needs it.
“We’re trying to normalize things so that pot isn’t super expensive and people don’t want to rob these places,” he said. “The more dispensaries, the lower the price, all the better for the patients.”

No comments: