Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carpinteria finalizes pot shop ban


After clearing up several administrative details at their meeting on Monday, the Carpinteria City Council officially gave the nod to an ordinance prohibiting the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the coastal town.
Although the Council had approved Ordinance 623 in May, a review by the California Coastal Commission kept the legislation from going into effect until now. A moratorium on pot shops had previously been in place for about a year and a half, community development director Jackie Campbell said.

“This has been in the works for a while,” she said. “…It will supercede the urgency ordinance we’ve had in place.”
After public hearings held in February and April of 2006 and earlier this year, the Council determined that medical marijuana dispensaries had no business operating in Carpinteria.
“The problem, frankly, is that these things become magnets for a criminal element,” Councilmember Joe Armendariz said. “Notwithstanding the medical issue, these places, especially the ones in Santa Barbara, are notorious for attracting an element to a neighborhood that is just not positive.”
Jennifer Nelson, a representative of the Santa Barbara chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said the ban ultimately hurts Carpinteria residents who use medical marijuana to treat ailments.
“It’s unfortunate, because this creates a burden on the Carpinteria patients who have to seek safe access elsewhere,” Nelson said.
Armendariz decried that argument, comparing the ban to other land-use decisions made by the Council on a routine basis.
“People in Carpinteria have to drive 30 minutes to Costco because we made the decision we didn’t want one in our town,” he said. “That doesn’t mean Costco isn’t a legitimate business.”
Don Duncan, the state campaign director for ASA, said there has been a trend of bans on dispensaries across the state in recent months. He highlighted a report he sent to the Carpinteria City Council during their public hearings on the proposed ban that discusses how regulating dispensaries reduces break-ins and criminal activity.
“There is obviously a solution that works, but some communities don’t seem to be ready for it,” Duncan said. “…Moratoriums are not necessarily bad things. If the city wants to take a timeout and work out rules and regulations, that is fine.”
The fact that no dispensaries were operating in Carpinteria prior to the Council’s decision prompted Duncan to call the ban a “solution looking for a problem.” However, Santa Barbara has witnessed an explosive growth of pot shops in the past few years, blossoming to around 10 before city leaders issued an emergency moratorium.
Complicating the issue is the dichotomy between state and federal law concerning medical marijuana. Although buying and using marijuana for medical purposes, with a doctor-prescribed identification card, is legal under California law, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency recently cracked down on dispensaries in the Santa Barbara area, ordering property owners to shut them down or face legal consequences.
“This is a fascinating issue,” Armendariz said. “Many communities in the state are debating this issue.”
Although Goleta and Santa Barbara are in the midst of considering regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, Armendariz said Carpinteria city leaders are clear on their decision.
“These things have no place in a small, family community.”

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