Santa Monica is exploring rules for permitting medical marijuana dispensaries within City limits.
Prior to the recent revision to the city’s zoning rules, marijuana businesses were prohibited. However, under the 2015 code, two dispensaries will be allowed with Conditional Use Permits (CUP).
According to the code, dispensaries are limited to locations along Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and Centinela Avenue; along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street; and along Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.
Dispensaries can be no larger than 2,500 square feet and are prohibited within 600 feet of a childcare and early education or family day care facility, park, school, library, social service center or other medical marijuana dispensary.
Dispensaries can operate between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. A maximum of 15 percent of the total floor area may be used for on-site cultivation of medical marijuana, and dispensaries are required to submit a security plan.
However, no rules are in place for deciding which two applicants receive permits, nor is there a mechanism that allows regulators to require additional concessions from applicants.
Three councilmembers requested a future agenda item that would, “explore how best to allocate planned medical marijuana dispensary permits to encourage the greatest community compatibility and benefits, including provisions adopted in other communities such as, but not limited to, Berkeley’s requirement that dispensaries provide some free or discounted services for low-income patients.”
Councilwoman Gleam Davis was one of the three who requested the discussion.
“There’s a fair amount of work going on out there in various communities about this, but I think it’s important that we all, including the applicants for permits, whatever those permits end up looking like for medical marijuana dispensaries, understand what our requirements are going to be and that we have a fair process for deciding who will operate in Santa Monica,” she said.
Several speakers asked council to move forward in a timely fashion.
“The city has to have been working on the end game,” said Bill Leahy of Santa Monicans for Responsible Access. “They can’t just suddenly throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘What are we going to do?'”
Hootan Soleimanzadh said he used to be in the dispensary business but quit due to poor regulations in Los Angeles. He said Santa Monica’s rules regarding placement of dispensaries were too strict, but also asked for a speedy resolution.
“It’s time for us to actually put into focus a process that’s going to finally be in effect as opposed to just talking,” he said.
The council expressed frustration with the Conditional Use Permit process and questioned how two vendors can be chosen without some kind of pre-qualification process.
“A lottery concept is disturbingly random,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “A CUP is not the place to make the choice of the operation, it’s the place to put restrictions on how that operation is conducted.”
A CUP evaluates if a project is located in the correct location and is limited in its ability to regulate activity on site. CUP’s are also attached to the physical property, not the business located on that property.
Council specifically asked for a way to force the chosen vendors to accommodate low-income patients, similar to the way dispensaries are regulated in other cities.
Staff said they are evaluating the direction given by the council and will return with options that hopefully meet council’s needs. Those include revisions to the newly adopted zoning code if necessary.
“Depending on what you want, we might need to recommend a change in the law,” said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.