By a 6-1 vote, the Santa Barbara City Council tentatively approved a new and stricter medical marijuana ordinance that would allow no more than three dispensaries within city limits. In addition, the council agreed to place an initiative on the November ballot asking city voters whether dispensaries should be banned outright. The vote came after more than three hours of passionate debate, ornate oratory, and intricate procedural maneuvers among a board of elected officials who have collectively wrestled with the issue for no less than 21 meetings within the past year.
The vote comes three weeks after the council seemed to have put the matter to rest. That’s when the council tentatively adopted a measure that would have set the maximum number of dispensaries at five. That vote came unglued, however, when Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss experienced a change of heart two weeks ago and opted — upon reconsideration — to vote against an ordinance that he had helped craft. At that point, Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmember Bendy White concluded the council had reached an impasse and proposed placing two competing initiatives on this November’s ballot — one in favor of the five-dispensary ordinance and another for a total ban.
Dispensary opponents on the council opposed the two-initiative solution, however, and persuaded White — a self-described swing vote — to vote in favor of the one-initiative approach. With White’s vote, the anti-dispensary block — councilmembers Dale Francisco, Frank Hotchkiss, and Michael Self — had the votes. At that point, Councilmember Das Williams and Mayor Schneider joined with them, leaving Councilmember Grant House as the sole councilmember to vote against the new ordinance and the proposed ballot initiative.