Friday, March 14, 2008

Report blasts city, marijuana dispensaries


A Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury report released yesterday looked into the world of medical marijuana dispensaries and concluded that they are largely unregulated and the city of Santa Barbara needs to act fast to tighten the reins on local pot shops.
The report says there is little evidence that inventory and sales records are accurately maintained and few restrictions exist to prevent patients from purchasing large amounts of marijuana in several shops as often as they please.

But the shortcomings of the cannabis operations in Santa Barbara are not solely the fault of owners, the report says, and much of the regulatory burden needs to be carried by the city.
Since late last year, a citywide moratorium has prevented any new dispensaries from opening, but the report says it expires next month and unless the city adopts a permanent ordinance before then, all it will take for new dispensaries to open is an application for a business license.
“The Santa Barbara City council should adopt a permanent medical marijuana ordinance, which at a minimum requires a dispensary use permit that would be renewed on a regular basis,” the report says.
The Grand Jury says the ordinance should require fingerprinting, photographing and background checks of operators, as well as mandatory inventory and sales audits.
According to the report, customers can purchase up to eight ounces of marijuana each visit. The average cost for an ounce, the report says, is $350 to $600. Dispensary owners told the grand jury the average amount sold at one time is one-eighth of one ounce, which could last from one day to one month depending on the patient’s use.
The Grand Jury report places a significant amount of weight on what customers are doing with the marijuana once it’s purchased.
The report found that some operators keep records of how often a patient purchases, but no requirement exists to do so, and “they cannot control what the patient does with the cannabis after leaving.”
The report says the number of dispensaries jumped from five to more than 20 when local voters approved Measure P in 2006. Measure P declared marijuana to be the lowest priority for local law enforcement.
The actual number of operating dispensaries is difficult to pin down. Several closed their doors in September 2007 after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration sent letters to local landlords who lease space to the dispensaries.
Because growing, selling, smoking and possessing marijuana is against federal law, the DEA’s letter threatened to seize any property associated with the distribution of the drug.
Though dispensary owners are protected under state law, the letter from the DEA made it clear who has the upper hand when it comes to wheeling and dealing marijuana.
“Federal law takes precedence over State law,” the letter said. “It is not a defense to this crime or to the seizure of the property that the facility operating on the property is providing ‘medical marijuana’ under California law including the provisions of California Proposition 215.”
That proposition, and the approval of Senate Bill 420 in 2003, gave “primary caregivers” the right under state law to provide marijuana to patients, or clients, who were issued a prescription by a doctor.
While the Grand Jury recommends the city crack down on the dispensaries, it also says most dispensary owners would welcome such regulations.
“They were eager for a permanent ordinance and made several suggestions for this ordinance…”
Some of those suggestions include limits on the amount of marijuana sold to a patient during one transaction, criminal background checks of dispensary operators and employees, audits of inventory and sales, the establishment of a testing program for quality control and the implementation of a secure database used by all dispensaries to prevent abuses.
The city’s ordinance committee has been working on drafting a permanent dispensary ordinance, which the report says addresses many of these issues.
But it does not address some key points the Grand Jury was most critical of. It says the city’s plans do not include efforts to audit dispensaries or track patients in order to prevent them from going from one dispensary to another.
The city has 90 days to offer a formal response to the Grand Jury’s report.
The entire report can be found at


Anonymous said...

Good, informative story. But the DS needs a copy editor. It should be "reins" as in rein in -- not "reigns" in the first paragraph. The former is for horses; the latter is what government does, city council members do (or think they do). ...Many times the DS has made this mistake.

Anonymous said...

...someone has too much time on their hands... :o)