CITY HALL — Medical marijuana dispensaries may be coming to town.
But, not yet.
City Council members softened their stance on medical marijuana dispensaries in a 4-3 vote earlier this week, ordering city officials to create regulations for the businesses.
City officials said an update of zoning laws is expected to go before the council in December and would contain proposed regulations for medical marijuana facilities where those with a doctor’s recommendation can purchase the drug in various forms.
To give city officials time to develop the regulations, council members also extended a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Santa Monica currently does not have any dispensaries and City Hall does not recognize them as legitimate businesses even though they are allowed under state law.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said he supports a law that would operate a limited number of dispensaries in the right places in the city.
He said he was “disturbed” a report to the council was packed with information from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice on the evils of marijuana.
“That’s pretty much an irrelevant argument,” McKeown said. “We are in California where medical marijuana is legal.”
The federal government does not recognize marijuana as medicine and considers it an addictive drug on the level of cocaine, LSD and ecstacy.
Mayor Pam O’Connor warned any decision could be delayed based on the council’s pattern of not staying on schedule when discussing other items like the Bergamot Area Plan. She said it could trail into early next year.
Last October, the City Council passed a 45-day moratorium against dispensaries, which was later extended to allow planners time to poll the community and research how best to approach the issue. Since the moratorium, City Hall held a community meeting in February to discuss pot dispensaries, and the California Supreme Court ruled that local jurisdictions could regulate or ban medical marijuana uses.
Others on the council, like Bob Holbrook, had reservations about placing dispensaries within city limits. Holbrook said he didn’t support city officials returning with proposed regulations.
“It has been problematic in other cities and I don’t think we need to have local marijuana shops,” Holbrook said.
Officials in Los Angeles have struggled with regulating dispensaries after hundreds opened, some legal and others not. Voters in that city recently voted to allow just over 130 of them. Eligible dispensaries must be located at least 600 feet from schools and parks, and at least 1,000 feet from each other. They may only stay open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Santa Monica’s law could mirror Los Angeles’ or take a different approach.
There’s been concern amongst advocates who wanted to lift the moratorium, arguing patients should have access to their medication without having to travel too far from home. Holbrook argued that communities around Santa Monica have plenty of pot shops for Santa Monica patients to access their marijuana.
Santa Monicans have in the past shown signs of support for the use of marijuana, or at least the decriminalization of it. In 2006, Santa Monica voters passed a measure that made marijuana smoking by adults in their own homes the lowest law enforcement priority, even under barking dogs. That means the Santa Monica Police Department has to respond to every other call they have before attending to a report of pot smoking in someone’s home.
Susan O’Leary, a concerned resident, said medical marijuana dispensaries create jobs, free up the police and City Hall can collect sales tax and use that on other city services.
“Prohibition doesn’t work,” O’Leary said at the council meeting held Tuesday. “It’s not necessarily accepted by law, but it’s accepted by society, especially those who are seeking alternative pain relief.”
Councilmembers Ted Winterer, Tony Vazquez, Gleam Davis and McKeown supported the measure to create the regulations for pot shops while Holbrook, O’Connor and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day voted against the motion.