By Nick Diamantides
The times they are a changing. Twenty-five years ago, who would have thought that one day it would be legal to grow pot in indoor gardens right here in Iowa By The Sea, aka Long Beach, California? But that’s exactly what is about to happen now that the Long Beach City Council has adopted an ordinance regulating the way that medical marijuana dispensaries aka “collectives,” aka “co-ops,” can operate within city limits.
The law will go into effect on July 21, 2010, and is the result of months of study and debate. Last August, the council requested that City Attorney Robert Shannon and City Prosecutor Tom Reeves conduct studies on the feasibility of passing such an ordinance. Although the two men disagreed on some of the aspects of the law, Shannon brought a draft ordinance to the council in early February. After the council debated some sections of the proposed ordinance and heard from residents who were either in favor of or opposed to it, the council recommended some changes and Shannon took it back to his staff for reworking. He brought it back to the council on March 16, and after a nearly two-hour discussion, which again included comments from the public as well as a series of proposed changes to the ordinance, a split council adopted the ordinance on a 5-4 vote. Councilmembers Suja Lowenthal, Gary DeLong, Patrick O’Donnell, Gerrie Schipske and Dee Andrews voted in favor of it. Councilmembers Robert Garcia, Tonia Reyes Uranga, Rae Gabelich and Val Lerch voted against it. That vote was repeated at the ordinance’s second reading, which took place last Tuesday, March 23.
The ordinance is designed to help the city implement the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), a state law approved by the voters in 1996, and the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), adopted by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2003. The CUA exempted seriously ill patients and their caregivers from criminal liability for the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes. The CUA also required that patients obtain written authorization from a medical doctor to use marijuana. The MMPA allowed associations of primary caregivers and qualified patients to cultivate marijuana for specified medical purposes.
The problem with those two state laws has been that local governments have differed widely on how to interpret them, and there have been several lawsuits filed by medical marijuana dispensary operators against different cities for allegedly denying them their rights under CUA and MMPA.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana dispensaries have proliferated throughout the state, and several officials in the criminal justice system– including Long Beach City Prosecutor Tom Reeves– have said that obtaining exorbitant profits, not concern for the well-being of patients, is the true motivation of too many dispensary operators. Reeves has also stated that it is too easy to get doctor authorization for medical marijuana use, and he questions whether everyone who has that authorization actually needs to use marijuana to alleviate an illness.
Be that as it may, medical marijuana dispensaries have been sprouting up all over Long Beach. Many residents and all the city council members have seen the need to find a way to regulate them. The ordinance is aimed at doing so.
The ordinance’s preamble states that marijuana that is not collectively or individually grown may be contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals that constitute a health hazard that could further endanger the health of people who are already seriously ill.
The preamble also declares that the city has “a compelling interest in protecting the public health, safety and welfare of its residents and businesses, in preserving the peace and quiet of neighborhoods in which medical marijuana collectives operate, and in providing compassionate access to medical marijuana to its seriously ill residents.” The ordinance’s language goes on to declare that the law is aimed at accomplishing the purposes listed above by regulating how medical marijuana is cultivated and distributed to patients in Long Beach.
Under the terms of the 26-page ordinance, in order to operate in Long Beach, a “medical marijuana collective” must first obtain a permit from the city department of financial management. A collective cannot be located in an area zoned exclusively for residential use, it can’t be located within 1,500 feet of a high school, or within 1,000 feet of a kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, junior high school or another medical marijuana collective.
The ordinance defines “collective” as an organization composed of four or more qualified patients and their caregivers who associate at a particular location or property to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. The law allows such organizations to cultivate marijuana in the facilities owned or leased by collective members as long as the general public cannot see the cultivation area.
Collectives will also be subject to unannounced inspections by city officials and must have samples of the marijuana they cultivate analyzed by a lab to determine whether they contain harmful contaminants, and all contaminated marijuana must be destroyed.
Some of the many other required conditions include: the prohibition of distributing marijuana to anyone who is not a member of the collective; the prohibition of smoking, eating or otherwise ingesting marijuana on the premises; the prohibition of manufacturing concentrated cannabis (such as hashish) from marijuana cultivated by the collective; the prohibition of alcohol use on the premises; the prohibition of loitering on or near the premises; the keeping of records identifying all the members of the collective; the accurate documentation of all transactions that take place on the premises; and the installation of sound-absorbing and odor-absorbing materials in the facilities.