VENICE — The Venice Neighborhood Council recently opened deliberations to form a policy recommendation concerning medical marijuana dispensaries for Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl.
VNC member Challis Macpherson made the motion to open the debate, having received complaints from Venice residents, whom she would not identify, about the number of dispensaries that have taken root in Venice in recent years, despite the moratorium by the City of Los Angeles banning new facilities after November 2007.
Three people associated with The Farmacy, a natural remedies pharmacy that supplies many products including medical marijuana, spoke before the council, urging them not to demonize legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries.
“We’re working with groups to standardize regulation. We’re alarmed at the proliferation of illegal dispensaries in Venice,” Joanna LaForce, a registered pharmacist who works with the Farmacy, told the council. “We are an herbal store that wants to give safe access to its customers.”
The VNC will discuss the topic again at next month’s meeting, take public comment and vote on a statement to send to Rosendahl. However, despite alleged complaints, no opponents of dispensaries stepped up, and when one councilman facetiously asked who approved of the legalization of marijuana, the majority of those in the room raised their hands.
“It’s no secret that the majority of Venice are fans of legalization,” said Mike Newhouse, the president of the VNC. “But it’s good to start the dialogue on the issue.”
According to Rosendahl’s office, 11 new dispensaries have sprung up in Venice under the hardship clause, a loophole that allows dispensaries to apply for an exemption to the moratorium.
“It’s like the wild west out there,” LaForce, the Farmacy’s pharmacist, said. “It gives a bad name to those operating correctly who are not about the profits.”
The Los Angeles City Council passed the moratorium in September 2007 to prevent the establishment of new facilities as they crafted a comprehensive policy toward dispensaries. As of yet, no such ordinance has been approved.
In the meantime, the City of Los Angeles, which governs the neighborhood of Venice, does not have an official policy toward medical marijuana facilities. Instead, dispensaries fall into the category of retail, which means that a dispensary can open up shop in any store front zoned for retail use without review by the city.
This is not the case for liquor stores, for example, which must apply for conditional use permits and are more heavily regulated by the city.
Residents of Venice do not seem overly concerned about the presence of medical marijuana in their community. However, those that approve of it fall into two distinct camps over how it should be regulated, like a retail location or like a liquor store with a conditional use permit.
“Dispensaries shouldn’t be limited,” said Phillip Ballon, a Venice resident. “Should pharmacies be limited? The only difference is that one sells man-made drugs. Marijuana is natural, it’s given to us by God.”
Others don’t mind the dispensaries, but think their numbers should be limited and obtrusion into the community minimized.
“I don’t care, I just expect them to keep it at a certain level,” said Ingrid Boon, a Venice resident. “Don’t flaunt it in people’s faces, it’s like anything else.”
Santa Monica does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries under its current zoning code. The issue was brought before the Santa Monica City Council in 2007 and, in a split vote, the council decided not to alter its code to allow dispensaries.
Santa Monica opted to sidestep the issue for a number of reasons, said City Councilmember Richard Bloom. Federal raids had grown more frequent over the course of the Bush administration. Some landlords had been contacted and told that their properties might be forfeit if they allowed federally illegal drugs to be sold there.
Another issue involved access. There are 50 medical marijuana dispensaries within 10 miles of Santa Monica, according to an information item drafted by city planners.
“The case at that time was made by proponents that it was difficult to access medical marijuana and frankly I didn’t find that credible because I could drive by places that were just slightly outside of Santa Monica city limits,” said Bloom. “It didn’t seem that they were so far out of the way that they would inconvenience anybody who needed those services.”
A final issue was the aesthetics of Santa Monica, Bloom said. Marijuana dispensaries are accompanied with security guards with painted and barred windows.
“From a design perspective, that kind of commercial exterior really doesn’t have a place in Santa Monica,” Bloom said.
Although elements of federal prosecution have changed under the Obama administration, which has stated that it will not pursue medical marijuana for uses allowed under state law, the other issues are sufficient to table the topic for the time being.
“Given the experience of our neighbors in Venice, I’m not sure why we would want them here,” Bloom said.