By CJ Dablo
Right now, marijuana dispensaries can’t legally operate in Signal Hill, and the City took one additional step at last Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting to keep it that way. On April 12, the Commission voted to recommend to the City Council a zoning ordinance amendment that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, the City Council will be considering the new zoning ordinance amendment at its next meeting on April 19.
A moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries that had been issued in 2009 and extended up until this year was set to expire on June 28. In 2009, medical marijuana dispensaries had not been approved for any zoning districts, and they had been “considered a prohibited use,” however the new amendment will help establish that the record is clear on Signal Hill’s stance on dispensaries, according to a city report. The City wanted to have an ordinance in place before the moratorium expired this summer, according to Scott Charney, Community Development director.
Two years ago, two dispensaries opened for business in Signal Hill without city approval and had been shut down, forcing the City to consider its stance on medical marijuana dispensaries. The issue has been debated and discussed in a public workshop last month and in prior City Council meetings.
“I want to make it clear to anybody in the public and the Commissioners, that when the Council did conduct hearings on the moratorium, that they acknowledged that the use was potentially beneficial. . .[and] it was important to certain populations in our community and the community at large,” Charney said. “But the concern was what strategy were we going to implement here in Signal Hill. And again, I think the pool is kind of poisoned by the operators choosing to open in advance of securing approvals.”
Charney cited studies from the City of Rocklin and the California Police Chiefs Association that noted negative impacts to the cities. According to a staff summary of the reports, the studies cited concerns of increased crime. Specifically, they noted a number of increased DUIs involving marijuana near dispensaries and concerns surrounding increased “street level resale of marijuana to persons without doctors’ recommendation.”
Since state law currently conflicts with federal laws regarding medical marijuana, cities like Signal Hill have developed policies to address requests from dispensaries who want to set up shop. But since the 2.2-square-mile city is surrounded by Long Beach, which has allowed for some medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally within its boundaries since May 2010, some city officials have argued that there is no need for more dispensaries in Signal Hill.
“We’re surrounded by a city that already does it,” said Planning Commissioner Tom Benson. “So it’s not like our citizens would be affected negatively because there is a network of facilities still available,” he said just before voting in favor of the Commission’s recommendation to City Council.
City Councilmember Michael Noll, who sat in the audience and listened to the staff report at the Planning Commission meeting, also weighed in on the issue in an interview Tuesday night.
Long Beach has “good ordinances in there that provide marijuana clinics for the people that need it,” said Noll, explaining concerns regarding Signal Hill’s size, schools and parks. “But our Signal Hill residents can go to Long Beach and get the service.”
Noll explained that some Signal Hill residents had complained about the two dispensaries that had been operating illegally.
“The residents weren’t happy with it,” Noll continued. “Signal Hill residents weren’t. But … you can legally grow marijuana if you have the certificate or license to do so, but we just don’t want commercial/retail in the city for marijuana.”
No one from the public spoke in favor of or against the recommendation to change the zoning ordinance. According to city staffers, the zoning ordinance would not regulate individual households who were legally growing marijuana for private medicinal use. The amendment would only address commercial distribution.