Santa Barbara to probe alleged conflicts in cannabis permits
A Santa Barbara city employee who oversaw applications for cannabis dispensary licenses has been placed on leave while he is the focus of an outside investigation, the city said March 15.
Anthony Wagner, a public information officer with the Santa Barbara Police Department, was the focus of a March 12 article in Los Angeles magazine that described potential conflicts of interest in the city’s cannabis permit system.
In addition to his duties as a police spokesman, and at one point as a spokesman for the chief city administrator, Wagner ran the city’s process for evaluating applicants for cannabis retail licenses. According to Los Angeles magazine, one of the three businesses that received a license in 2018 was run by two friends of Wagner’s from San Diego.
In a statement issued March 15, Bernard Melekian, Santa Barbara’s interim police chief, said that “most” of the allegations in the article have already been investigated internally. A federal lawsuit brought by one of the unsuccessful cannabis permit applicants was dismissed in 2019.
But the article contained new allegations, Mekelian said, and the Police Department will bring in an outside firm to investigate those.
“I have placed Mr. Wagner on administrative leave pending the outcome of this inquiry,” Mekelian’s statement said. “I should note that Mr. Wagner has been fully cooperative with this inquiry and welcomes the involvement of an outside reviewer.”
Melekian has been interim chief since March 1. Wagner was hired by Police Chief Lori Luhnow, who retired in February.