In the final minutes of discussion, the City Council pivoted away from an outright ban on recreational marijuana businesses in Santa Monica Tuesday night, opting instead to direct staff members to consider all options.

The decision to potentially give marijuana businesses a shot or instate a moratorium rather than an outright ban while the state can catch up with rules was largely advanced by longtime councilmember and former KROQ DJ Kevin McKeown.

“I think the time is for us in Santa Monica to stop kicking this can down the road,” McKeown said after showing a clip of then U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy saying cigarettes kill more people than marijuana on The Tonight Show in 1968.

“After two generations we’ve still been putting people in jail for marijuana,” McKeown said.

In November, voters in Santa Monica overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 64, which legalized possession of up to an ounce of pot for anyone over the age of 21. Consumption is allowed in private homes and individuals can cultivate their own plants. However, businesses looking to open under the new law will have to get both a state and local permit.  The state will not begin issuing business licenses until after Jan. 1, 2018.

While the Council discussed the merits of marijuana, neighboring Los Angeles voters passed Measure M with nearly 80 percent of the vote, allowing pot to be taxed and regulated in that city once it officially goes on the market.  The measure allows a 10 percent gross receipts tax for recreational cannabis sales.  The money will go into the General Fund.

Overall, the Santa Monica City Council leaned toward a cautionary approach when opening the door for marijuana businesses looking to cash in on the newly legalized drug.

“I think, unlike some other cities, we aren’t desperate for the revenue we would get from this,” Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said.

Under the Council’s direction, staff will analyze the risk and opportunities of local regulation of recreational marijuana facilities.  They will also draft a permit to allow the City’s first medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I’ve been pushing to try to get medical going as quickly as we can,” Councilmember Tony Vazquez said while advocating for strict guidelines in the permitting process that would require a high fee, a reimbursement formula for law enforcement costs, a vetting process, and bonding.

Back in 2015, the City Council updated the zoning ordinance to authorize two dispensaries along Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th Streets or along Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.  Santa Monica’s zoning ordinance is more restrictive than state law, requiring the dispensaries be far away from certain institutions like schools, daycare centers and libraries.

“Every time we talk about this I think about how small the city is and how hard it is going to be to find a second site that’s not within 500 feet of anything,” Himmelrich said, noting it will be difficult to support a recreational industry in a City that is just eight square miles.

As a final directive at their Tuesday night meeting, the City Council directed staff to also look into marijuana manufacturing within city limits.

kate@smdp.com

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