CITY HALL — Medical marijuana dispensaries had wide approval from the Planning Commission Wednesday night.
Despite recommendations against the pot shops made by Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks and city planners, five of the six present commissioners supported allowing two within a district near the city’s two hospitals. Chair Jennifer Kennedy opposed the pot shops. Vice Chair Jason Parry was not present.
Medical marijuana dispensaries were not permitted in Santa Monica under the old zoning code, which regulates the types of businesses allowed in different parts of the city. City Hall is in the process of updating the zoning code and the commission has been giving its input for the past few months. Marijuana dispensaries are one of many uses being considered for the new zoning ordinance, which dictates how land is used and what can be built where.
The commission’s decision is not binding but its recommendation will go in front of City Council later this year to be considered along with recommendations from city planners and Seabrooks.
Seabrooks, who penned a letter to city planners on the matter last month, spoke at the commission meeting giving a detailed report as to why the dispensaries could pose a threat to public safety.
“We’ve had a robbery involving the stealing of medicinal marijuana wherein people were injured,” she said. “Now, that occurred not associated with a dispensary but the victims indicated that they had been to a nearby dispensary and they were robbed.”
Because marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level, banks are hesitant to grant accounts to dispensaries and transactions are often done in cash. This contributes to a higher likelihood for robberies, Seabrooks said.
Many people spoke on both sides of the topic during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Commissioners agreed to cap dispensaries at 2,500 square feet and asked city planners to more closely align regulations with West Hollywood’s, which Commissioner Richard McKinnon said seemed the “best regulated and most sensibly organized.”
City planners had previously recommended the inclusion of two dispensaries before coming across several previously-unconsidered issues, like the potential for crime and parking problems that could be caused by the shops.
While city planners and Seabrooks recommended against the shops, they did opine on parameters that should be included if the dispensaries are allowed.
Commissioners stuck with many of the recommendations, but were more liberal about others.
They expanded the boundaries to include the area between Wilshire, Santa Monica, and Lincoln boulevards, and Centinela Avenue.
Last year, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office announced that federal officials would focus on pot shops located within 1,000 feet of schools. Commissioners dropped Santa Monica’s limit to 600 feet.
“Clearly I’m in the minority but I think anything less than 1,000 feet is inappropriate,” Kennedy said.
Most commissioners were concerned that the restrictions would make it impossible for a dispensary to be located anywhere within city limits.
Commissioners were in favor of allowing dispensaries to grow their own pot on-site in an area no greater than 15 percent of the business. They debated the sustainability of growing, which would require lots of water and electricity, but ultimately decided that the decision to allow it would cut down on car trips and provide a better product to patients.
“There’s not much that’s sustainable about marijuana being grown in an office, but it may be that it treats people so that you actually got a fresh supply,” McKinnon said.
Bill Leahy, spokesperson for Santa Monicans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, was thrilled with the commission’s recommendations.
“They addressed everything I’d asked for and more,” he said. “Santa Monicans for Safe Access is very pleased with the commission’s thoughtful response.”
Still, Leahy said, there is a long way to go before dispensaries become a reality.
Several commissioners noted that the dispensaries could act as pilot program.
“I think this is going to be changing,” said Commissioner Gerta Newbold. “I think in two years or three years the laws are going to change and this may even be outdated by then. And maybe we will be just selling it at pharmacies just like every other thing, so who knows.”