SH Council extends its moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries for additional year

By Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

No medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in Signal Hill until at least June 28, 2011. Last Tuesday, the Signal Hill City Council voted unanimously to extend the city’s moratorium on such facilities for an additional year.
“California state law does not criminalize possession and sale of marijuana if it is done through a nonprofit collective or cooperative by patients who have received a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana use or by their primary caregivers,” said Scott Charney, Signal Hill’s city planning manager, in his report to the Council. “Such operations often exist as storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Charney noted that while state law permits the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries, cities may regulate or prohibit them through zoning laws. He added that, in spite of the state law, federal law still prohibits the possession and distribution of marijuana for any reason. (However, last year, United States Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government would not seek to prosecute patients or operators of dispensaries for using or distributing marijuana.)
Charney also reminded the Council that a little more than a year ago, city officials discovered that two medical marijuana dispensaries were operating without business licenses in Signal Hill. He added that, because such dispensaries are not listed as a use in any zoning district, their operations are prohibited in the city.
Last July, in order to give staff time to study ways to regulate marijuana dispensaries, the Council adopted an ordinance imposing a 45-day moratorium on such facilities. Charney explained that, as a basis for adopting the moratorium, the Council agreed with a staff report that found potential negative effects on the public health, safety and welfare associated with unregulated dispensaries, including: an increase in crimes such as burglary, robbery and loitering; use of marijuana in public in the vicinity of dispensaries; an increase in marijuana DUIs; the illegal resale of marijuana to individuals without physician recommendations; street dealers attempting to sell marijuana to dispensary customers; and an increase of the sale of illegal drugs in the vicinity of dispensaries.
The interim moratorium forced the closure of the two dispensaries that had been operating in Signal Hill. Then, on August 18, 2009, the Council extended the moratorium to June 28, 2010. Charney told the Council that, by state law, it could extend the moratorium for an additional year, but after that time no further extensions were allowed. He recommended the one-year extension of the moratorium.
“At this point, staff believes it prudent to monitor legal developments as well as implementation of recently adopted ordinances in the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach that strictly regulate dispensaries,” he said. Charney explained that about three months ago, the Long Beach City Council adopted an ordinance requiring dispensary operators to obtain a medical marijuana collective permit and to not locate their facilities within 1,000 feet of a grade school, 1,500 feet of a high school, and 1,000 feet of another dispensary. The Long Beach ordinance also includes a long list of other regulations for such facilities.
Charney added that the Los Angeles City Council adopted a similar ordinance in January. He explained that Signal Hill staff would be watching to see the effects of the ordinances and the operations of regulated dispensaries in those two cities.
He noted, however, that a particular ballot measure has the potential of drastically changing how marijuana is regulated in the state. “An initiative has qualified for the November 2, 2010 ballot that would make it legal for anyone 21 or older to possess, share or transfer up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use and to grow (marijuana in up to 25 square feet of land) per residence or parcel,” he said. “Cities and counties would be authorized to regulate and tax commercial marijuana production and sales.”
Charney explained that, in addition to monitoring legal developments and the impact of dispensaries in neighboring cities, Signal Hill staff would study the desirability or feasibility of possible regulations addressing the following concerns pertaining to dispensaries: proliferation, concentration, public safety, proximity to sensitive uses, and design criteria for storefronts and signage.
“Prior to the expiration of the moratorium, staff will prepare a regulatory strategy to be reviewed by the planning commission and then brought forward to the City Council,” Charney said. After a few brief comments agreeing with Charney’s analysis and recommendation, Council members unanimously adopted the ordinance extending the moratorium for one more year.
The next meeting of the City Council is scheduled for 7pm, July 6 in the Council Chamber of Signal Hill City Hall.

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