CITYWIDE — While city officials debate medical marijuana dispensaries, delivery drivers are taking pot to the doorsteps of Santa Monica residents.
In their recent recommendations against allowing pot shops in the city by the sea, both Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks and city planners cited the easy access to medicinal marijuana provided by the delivery services. Delivery services, they said, renders dispensaries unnecessary.
A report by city planners references a website, Weedmaps.com, which lists a dozen marijuana delivery companies that serve Santa Monicans.
The debate over the pot shops arose as City Hall updates the zoning ordinance, which regulates land uses across the city. The Planning Commission supported the inclusion of the shops, despite the recommendations from Seabrooks and planners. City Council will have the last word when they finalize the zoning ordinance later this year.
The Daily Press reached out to a majority of the companies on Weedmaps, the website referenced by City Hall. Several did not respond. One claimed that they no longer deliver. A few were willing to speak anonymously. The director of one delivery service, The Secret Garden, spoke candidly but would only give his first name.
The legality of marijuana delivery, as with all marijuana-related issues, is tricky right now. Pot is prohibited at the federal level. At the state level, the delivery of medicinal marijuana is allowed under laws that are vague, said attorney Michael Chernis, who represents dispensary owners. Under state law, the services have to operate as nonprofits and deliver only to members of the collective, he said. They are also required to get business licenses.
At the local level, Proposition D, which Los Angeles voters passed last year, prohibits the delivery of marijuana, according to the L.A. City Clerk’s website.
Many of the delivery services referenced by Weedmaps are likely operating illegally.
“Weedmaps is not exactly the authority on what is and what is not legal,” Chernis said.
Still, he said, the delivery services that are properly run and operating as a nonprofit can be legal, “meaning exempt from criminal prosecution in the state of California.”
Delivery services in many jurisdictions are neither specifically banned nor specifically allowed, Chernis said. Regulation, he said, would help the patients and the delivery services feel more secure.
Seabrooks noted the lack of clarity on the issue when she spoke at the Planning Commission last week.
“We checked in the general area and found as many as 15 of these services,” she said. “I do understand that according to a Los Angeles-based report, many of these were not permitted. That’s a concern, which speaks to the reason that the police department is taking a position on this matter relative to any decisions that may be made to the community.”
According to City Hall’s records, they have not received any sales taxes from or granted business licenses to delivery services.
That doesn’t mean sales aren’t being made.
Mik, the director of The Secret Garden, estimated that they make 20 to 30 deliveries to the city by the sea every day. Most of the business is from regulars, he said, of which there are 300 to 400 in Santa Monica.
“These are people in the Santa Monica area who are well-to-do,” Mik said. “They are doctors. They are lawyers. They don’t want to be seen near any dispensary and we are very discrete.”
For this reason, he said, if Santa Monica opens dispensaries he doesn’t believe it will hurt his business.
Mik, who is also the director of a brick and mortar dispensary in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, says that delivery services are less profitable but safer.
“We’ve been approached by so many different gangs wanting to tax us, saying, ‘this is our turf and you have to pay us,’” he said. “But we never have that happen with delivery.”
Advocates for dispensaries in the city have stated the opposite. They say that allowing strangers into your home with unknown amounts of cash and marijuana can be dangerous for both parties.
“That’s a little thin if you ask me, bro,” said the operator of another dispensary that makes five to 10 deliveries in the city every day. “We all get delivery of all different kinds of things throughout the day; parcel delivery and such.”
Delivery is strong in Santa Monica precisely because there are no dispensaries, he said.
“The further the dispensaries are away, the busier delivery services are going to be,” he said. “We’ve got dispensaries on our east border and on our south border so people will hop down to Venice or hop over to Brentwood.”
He, and other dispensary operators, described pre-screening clients using Google searches to make sure they aren’t felons.
“But we serve Santa Monica,” he said. “It’s a nice neighborhood, man.”
In Santa Monica, he said, drivers have been pulled over by the police and let go. He’s heard of other drivers getting arrested but released on the first court hearing.
The Daily Press reached out the Santa Monica Police Department last week with questions about their policy on marijuana delivery services but did not hear back by press time.
“Obviously, for some of the patients it’s recreational,” Mik said. “For some of them they really need it. But this is not the age where they have to be in the dark corners getting it. That’s why we’re here.”