By Nick Diamantides
Thanks to a lottery conducted at Long Beach City Hall Monday afternoon, 32 marijuana dispensaries are ready to roll in the city. The lottery was the next step in a process that the City began more than a year ago to regulate such facilities in Long Beach.
Actually, all the winners of the lottery have been operating medical marijuana distribution shops for some time, but the lottery means they may continue to operate. A total of 43 such dispensaries paid the fee to enter into the drawing. The 11 whose numbers were not pulled will be forced to close.
In 2009, the Long Beach City Council requested the city prosecutor’s office and the city attorney’s office to undertake studies and submit reports to the Council on how to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. The request was in response to the proliferation of such facilities in the city, with no ordinance on the books to regulate them.
The problem of knowing how to regulate marijuana dispensaries has its roots in Proposition 215, which was passed by California voters in 1996. Known as the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), the law permits the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and requires a doctor’s written recommendation for such use. Later, in 2003, the state legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) ostensibly to clarify and facilitate the implementation of the CUA. Both laws, however, have vague language that does not clearly specify how medicinal marijuana is to be distributed other than to require that it be distributed from nonprofit cooperatives or collectives that can only accept donations for the marijuana they provide to patients with a doctor’s recommendation.
After 2003, medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives began popping up all over the state. In more recent years, Long Beach residents and Council members became concerned that at least some of the dispensaries in the city were nothing more than marijuana dealers operating under the guise of law with little regard to whether their customers had valid medical reasons for using the substance.
To address those concerns, the City Council passed an ordinance earlier this year spelling out the regulations under which medical marijuana dispensaries must operate in the city. The lottery is part of the regulatory process. To participate in it, operators of such facilities had to pay the City a $14,742 non-refundable permit application fee. The facilities that were chosen at the lottery must comply with a long list of strict regulations and still face a process of building inspections, public notices and hearings before the City grants them their permits to operate.
Additional medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives will not be allowed to open in the city until a new permit application period begins, a date for which has not yet been set.
Meanwhile, on November 2, California voters will decide whether to pass Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state and authorize local governments to regulate and tax its commercial production, distribution and sale. Whether the proposition passes or not, its effect on medical marijuana dispensaries has yet to be determined.