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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 15th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 24 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 24

Solvang to allow medical marijuana, for now

By Spencer Cole

In a race against the clock to pass cannabis regulations before the Aug. 14 deadline, the Solvang City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that effectively allows medical marijuana operators to set up shop on the western side of the Santa Ynez Valley community.

The 4-1 vote came about on Aug. 13 at the council's regular meeting and not before some hand wringing by some in attendance and the city's mayor about what the pot ordinance means for Solvang's future and identity. 

"I'm of the opinion that it's not for the branding of Solvang," Mayor Jim Richardson said before casting the sole dissenting vote. "I dont think it's the way to go."

Richardson conceded that the ordinance was "probably" a good one and explained to the council and small crowd at the meeting that he came to his decision after researching state law, along with medical applications of CBD and THC found in marijuana. 

"Those sorts of things I can understand," he added, "the hang-up I have is Solvang itself being known as the only city in the valley that sells marijuana products. And it's just disheartening to me."

If the council had failed to pass the regulations, the city would have potentially opened itself up to a two- to three-day window allowing recreational or medicinal cannabis operators to "slip in" to Solvang, staff said. Prior to Proposition 64's passage, which legalized recreational marijuana in California, council members unanimously passed an urgency ordinance in September 2016 banning manufacturing, lab testing, processing, storing, wholesale retail distribution, and labeling of cannabis.

The prohibition ordinance needed to be renewed every 45 days, and was further extended the maximum allowable time (around two years). But the ban was scheduled to end on Sept. 21 of this year, with no room for extension, according to City Attorney Dave Fleishman. That's why the ordinance had to be passed after its first reading on Aug. 13: to allow for the 30-day window for the regulations to go into effect if the ordinance is passed following its second reading at the council meeting scheduled for Aug. 27. 

Just before the Solvang City Council passed an ordinance with a 4-1 vote allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to operate in the city on Aug. 13, Mayor Jim Richardson called the move “not for the branding of Solvang.”

Even so, there will still be a three-day period when cannabis operators can potentially navigate regulation-free loopholes and try to set up shop within city limits, according to Richardson. 

The action on Aug. 13 was the culmination of more than two decades of the city's officials attempting to give access to medical cannabis for residents without allowing actual brick-and-mortar businesses to operate within city limits. 

When California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) in 1996, Solvang's council amended portions of its municipal code to keep medical dispensaries and cultivation out of the city. 

However, council members and staff at the time left wiggle room for medical marijuana delivery. 

It is that issue that was pushed to the forefront on Aug. 13. Fleishman and city staff explained that night that in order for a medical dispensary to operate, it had to be able to have product "that has been tested, manufactured, stored, and transported." Furthermore, if the city were to pass an ordinance simply allowing a dispensary to exist, "but did not otherwise consider the production, transportation, and storage issues [and others], the city would end up with a legal location in theory but not in practice." 

The ordinance allows for medical cannabis dispensaries to operate in the C-3 zone, near the city's western entrance. The permits issued by the city to potential operators would last one year and need to be renewed annually.

"While this process is designed to allow extensive regulation, and the regulation is intended to minimize impacts on neighboring properties and the city, the permit lasts only a year," staff documents say. "If the regulations are not working, they can be addressed, either through the renewal process, a voluntary development agreement, or by changes in the ordinance itself."

Attorney Fleishman also informed council members that a cap on the number of dispensaries could be applied by the council by way of resolution at any later date. 

Facing criticism from Richardson and Councilmember Joan Jamieson about the manufacturing component, Fleishman defended the ordinance's characterization of the process.

"The definition of 'manufacture' can be as simple as someone making edibles, [liquid] tinctures, lotions ... it may be on a small scale business model, not necessarily mom-and-pop, but a smaller localized operation that makes its own type of products for wide distribution," he said. "It's not as if semi trucks are going to be backing up and carrying out huge quantities to go throughout the state."

Weekly Poll
What do you think of the changes Santa Barbara County made to its cannabis ordinances?

It was too early to make any changes. The industry is still new.
The changes were necessary. Cannabis farms are ruining our quality of life.
The changes are too restrictive and could stifle a growing industry.
More changes are needed to address the odor problems and other issues.

| Poll Results