Green rush

As one medical-cannabis shop prepares to open, others may soon follow

Photos by CJ Dablo | Signal Tribune
Adam Hijazi, co-owner of the Long Beach Green Room, opens a jar of marijuana buds in his dispensary. His store is scheduled to open this weekend.

Long Beach may be on the verge of its own green revolution, now that the City has developed a process for obtaining business licenses for medical-marijuana dispensaries and other businesses related to the cannabis industry.

Last November, Long Beach voters passed two ordinances that regulated and taxed the cannabis industry, and earlier this year, the City announced just how medical-marijuana-related companies could obtain business licenses. The City offered priority status to applicants who were previous owners of dispensaries legally operating before the 2012 ban on medical-cannabis businesses took effect in the city. Those store owners eventually closed their shops.

Five years later, applicants for a new business license now have to meet some strict requirements by the City. Location, security, taxation and a host of other regulations are managed by different departments, and these issues require coordination from the city manager’s office before a dispensary can open its doors.

Ajay Kolluri, who serves as the assistant to the city manager in Long Beach, oversees the current marijuana program and coordinates with various departments. Kolluri described the challenge of having to square the laws that Long Beach voters passed with the State’s proposed regulations on the marijuana industry.

Kolluri also said that on Sept. 28, the City held a public lottery for other business-license applicants who weren’t given priority status to operate dispensaries.

He noted that up to 32 business licenses will be issued to dispensaries in the city and that there was no cap on licenses for other industry-related companies that offered various services, which include cultivation, distribution and testing.

Kolluri explained that Measure MM, one of the initiatives that voters passed last year, set strict deadlines for the city staff to complete certain tasks, but those deadlines didn’t always mirror the State’s requirements. There is a problem: California hasn’t finalized its own regulations governing medical cannabis. The State of California only has a regulatory framework at this stage, not a list of final rules.

California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation indicates on its website that it anticipates that regulations will be developed on Jan. 1, 2018.

Kolluri acknowledged in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune that his office is making their “best attempts” at regulating the cannabis businesses using the standards that city staffers know exist today, which are mostly the local standards of the City. They are keeping “an eye towards what the State will ultimately require when it adopts its regulations,” he added.

While striking that balance may prove to be a challenge for city staff, Kolluri acknowledged that the City does not want to repeat a disappointment for dispensary owners. Many of them are applying for business licenses for the second time, several years later.

“So, our goal has been not to set these businesses up for failure,” Kolluri said, “because we don’t want a situation where we license these businesses, and then ultimately, they’re not able to meet the state regulations. But at the same time, some of the state regulations haven’t had the effect of law as yet, and so, […] we’re having to juggle our local law and a constantly changing state law, knowing that eventually these businesses are going to have to get a state license as well.”

Adam Hijazi, a co-owner of Long Beach Green Room, a new dispensary, knows what disappointment feels like. The shop he operated on 7th Street was one of the few dispensaries that operated legally up until 2012, the year the City banned all cannabis shops in Long Beach. He said he was still locked into a 15-year lease even though he had to close his business.

He served on the board of the Long Beach Collective Association, a marijuana-advocacy organization that proved instrumental in campaigning for one of the initiatives that won support and passed at last November’s election.

Hijazi is now set to open his new dispensary to the public soon. The Long Beach Green Room kept the same location as Hijazi’s old shop. He said in an interview with the Signal Tribune that he expects to open the new location by Saturday, Sept. 30, pending a few minor final checks.

Sam Marjiya (left) taps away at his computer while Adam Hijazi (right) displays a jar of cannabis buds on the counter. Marjiya and Hijazi are co-owners of the Long Beach Green Room, the first legal medical-marijuana dispensary in the city scheduled to open on Sept. 30.

He recognized there were a lot of challenges to get to this point.

“I think the most difficult part about the process was a little bit of dealing with the perception of cannabis coming back to Long Beach,” he said.

His new shop displays a business-license certificate issued by the City. His dispensary is the first to win the coveted document that hangs on a wall in the reception area.

Hijazi said that he had kept the original location of the shop in the 2nd District, and within the earshot of co-owner Sam Marjiya, he added that he hopes to expand the storefront and eventually apply for a cultivation license.

Hijazi acknowledged that they have made some improvements to their processes. Many cannabis-related businesses are not able to open bank accounts, however, Hijazi said that they have found an “initial” bank solution that could potentially be used throughout the city. He didn’t offer details on how his banking solution worked, however he remained upbeat about the issue.

“Hopefully, it sticks,” Hijazi concluded, “and we will continue having bank access and…moving forward as these facilities open up and taxes are due.”

The 33-year-old businessman said that, as outlined by the City ordinance, his business now has a community liaison to serve as the point of contact with members of the public. He understands that not everyone will be happy to see cannabis return to their neighborhood, but Hijazi said he believed that education will be a big component of community relations.

The Signal Tribune asked him why he chose to keep his business in Long Beach, since he could have set up shop in other cities reputed to be friendlier to the cannabis industry.

“We care for Long Beach,” Hijazi said, “and we want to see this program work well in Long Beach.”

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