Buellton council bans marijuana dispensaries

January 13, 2008

Julian J. Ramos, Lompoc Record (CA)

With no public opposition, the Buellton City Council has moved to permanently ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

In a 5-0 vote Thursday night, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the establishment of storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. A second reading and possible approval is scheduled for Jan. 24.

In the public comment section of the public hearing, no one in the audience spoke.

Santa Maria, Solvang, Lompoc, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and San Luis Obispo all have passed similar ordinances.

Buellton had a medical marijuana dispensary called Hezekiah Inc. on Second Street, but it shut down after being raided by federal agents who seized all the marijuana on the premises on July 26, 2007.

Federal search-warrant raids of medical marijuana dispensaries occurred in the Los Angeles area the previous day.

It is a crime under federal and state law to manufacture, distribute, dispense or possess marijuana, but the state makes an exception for the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In 1996, 56 percent of California voters approved Proposition 215, called the Compassionate Use Initiative, which allows marijuana to be used legally by qualified patients who receive a prescription from a doctor.

It was the first statewide medical marijuana voter initiative adopted in the nation. However, federal law enforcement agents do not recognize the state law, instead enforcing the federal prohibition on even medical marijuana use.

Hezekiah had been the only medical marijuana dispensary in northern Santa Barbara County, but it closed in either August or September after an eviction by the property owner, said city Planning Director Marc P. Bierdzinski.

In his report to the council, Bierdzinski noted that some crime had been related to Hezekiah, including burglaries at the facility in November 2006 and May 2007, the bust of an illegal medical marijuana cultivation operation in the city in February 2007, and a felony conviction for selling marijuana to a person without a valid medical marijuana ID card.

When the dispensary opened in January 2005, there was nothing in the Buellton city code addressing such businesses.

In response, the council unanimously approved an emergency temporary moratorium in March 2006 banning the establishment and operation of additional medical marijuana dispensaries within Buellton.

The ordinance, effective for 45 days, prohibited the issuing of “any entitlements for the establishment or operation of a medical marijuana dispensary.” Under state law, an initial moratorium can last no more than 45 days. A month later, the council approved a one-year extension of the moratorium.

The council approved an extension of that moratorium in March 2007 through March 14, 2008. The moratoriums gave the city time to review its zoning code, which does not include details for regulating marijuana dispensaries; develop potential zoning amendments; and research existing laws to determine the effect of potential congressional action.

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