It’s a “do over” moment in the continuing saga of Long Beach’s attempts to regulate pot dispensaries. City officials will begin the process of finding a way to regulate safe access to medical marijuana…again. The City Council voted 8-0 last Tuesday, Sept. 10 to request the city attorney to draft a new ordinance that would regulate dispensaries. Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews was not present for the vote.
This time City Attorney Charles Parkin and his team have now been charged with developing a conditional-use permit (CUP) process “under the City’s zoning laws.” The full framework of a new ordinance has yet to be hashed out, however the Council did recommend parameters to the ordinance. A draft of the City Council minutes outlines them as follows:
•Performance standards which include a security plan
•Location restrictions within certain zones such as industrial and no residential and institutional zones
•Include a cap to two per Council District and no more than 18 citywide
•Consider distances from schools
•Describe the CUP process
Second District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal acknowledged Tuesday that the Council has wrestled with the pot-dispensary issue for more than four years. In the meantime, dispensaries have popped up all over the city. Some dispensaries were forced to shut down. Still others continue to operate even after the Council decided to make the dispensaries illegal. The City Council voted to ban medical-marijuana dispensaries last year after a court ruled that parts of the city’s former ordinance that attempted to regulate the pot industry violated federal law.
However, that ban did not deter medical-marijuana advocates who then launched a campaign to request that a ballot initiative regulating dispensaries should be voted upon by the people in a special election.
Although proponents of medical marijuana claim that more than 43,000 registered voters signed their petition, the city clerk’s office invalidated a key number of the signatures. According to a staff report to the Council, the city clerk determined that only a little more than 31,000 signatures were valid, a number below the threshold needed to call for a special election. Earlier this week, a court did not side with the medical-marijuana advocates, who claimed that they had at least gathered enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot for a general election.
Despite the court ruling, Lowenthal urged the Council to pay attention to the supporters who are pressing for safe access to medical marijuana.
“As I have mentioned before,” Lowenthal told the Council, “expecting patients with painful conditions to get their medical-marijuana prescriptions through drug dealers and back alleys is not the solution.”
Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin agreed, indicating he wasn’t comfortable with banning dispensaries altogether, explaining that an outright ban assumes that medical-marijuana dispensaries would just go away.
“It’s going to be in our alleys. It’s going to be dealt out of apartments,” Austin said. “It’s going to serve an underground economy, and it’s not going to serve the best interests of the city.” Austin concluded that he could support an ordinance from the City Council since it could give officials “optimal control” of the issue.
The Council ultimately agreed with Lowenthal and Austin. They voted 8-0 in favor of requesting the city attorney to initiate the process of developing an ordinance that would address regulating dispensaries through zoning codes.
About 10 members of the public spoke out in favor of allowing safe access to medical marijuana and for some regulation of dispensaries. No one in the public spoke out against marijuana dispensaries.
One advocate said that he had suffered from a back injury and damaged nerve endings in his leg. “Cannabis actually allows me to function,” he said.
At times, the discussion grew heated and wandered off topic. Some speakers yelled insults at the Council if the speakers’ allotted three minutes of public comment were interrupted. Other public-comment participants enjoyed an easy dialogue with the council members. Adam Hijazi, a board member with the Long Beach Collectives Association, urged the Council to still put the issue to a vote in an election so that residents could determine whether the City would regulate marijuana dispensaries.
Fourth District Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell asked Hijazi a pointed question. “If we could, in fact, craft another [ordinance],” O’Donnell began, “–and I don’t know if we can, wouldn’t that be a better route to go than waiting for another initiative? Would you agree?“
“I would agree, but I would love the opportunity to sit and talk,” Hijazi replied.
After the Council meeting, Hijazi said he was grateful to the Council for its leadership.
“I think ultimately, at the end of the day, they always knew that this was the right thing to do,” Hijazi said. “They were just finding the best way to do it.”
Lowenthal also said after the meeting that she was pleased with the outcome.
“I do think in our heart of hearts,” Lowenthal said, “this Council wants to be sure that there is safe access for people who need medical marijuana.” The 2nd-district councilmember seemed confident that city officials would be able to navigate through the legal hurdles ahead of them.
“We are a very sophisticated city,” Lowenthal concluded. “We have a very sophisticated city attorney’s office. We can figure it out.”