MAIN LIBRARY — City officials will hold a community meeting next week to give residents a voice in whether or not they want to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in Santa Monica.
The meeting, which will be held Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Main Library, will begin with the “will we, won’t we” and then move on to more specifics of the policy, including placement within the city and regulations to make them good neighbors.
Although staff researched the matter in 2007 when the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries first emerged, planners want to start fresh, said Paul Foley, principal planner with City Hall.
“We want to hear from the community with an open slate without suggesting anything that might be in that report,” Foley said.
There are no medical marijuana facilities in Santa Monica, although they are not expressly forbidden.
The City Council passed a 45-day moratorium against dispensaries in October, which was later extended to allow planners time to poll the community and research how best to approach the issue.
The question of medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Monica emerged last year when Richard McDonald set up a medical marijuana testing facility on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Rather than selling marijuana, McDonald was testing pot brought in by other dispensaries to provide information about possible pesticide contamination and even what kinds of symptoms the medicine would best treat.
City Hall refused to issue him a business license, and McDonald opened without one. He’s currently fighting a legal battle with City Hall to win the right to open.
In the meantime, McDonald decided to compromise.
If he could not open a testing facility with any ease, he would open a dispensary, which was legal under California law, if not federal law.
McDonald wasn’t the only one with the idea.
City Hall received 15 inquiries and one actual business license application for medical marijuana facilities, all as the city of Los Angeles grappled with a challenge to its ban on dispensaries.
The L.A. City Council dropped the ban after advocates rallied and gathered 50,000 signatures needed to put the matter before voters. The city now has three measures set for its May election proposing different ways to regulate the facilities.
“On the day L.A. just repealed its ban, don’t we feel just a little silly and out of touch?” McDonald told the City Council in October.
Now, the community will have a chance to weigh in on the issue and decide once and for all if medical marijuana dispensaries have a place in Santa Monica.
Residents here have a reputation for permissiveness when it comes to marijuana. In 2006, voters passed a measure that made marijuana smoking by adults in their own homes the lowest law enforcement priority, even under barking dogs.
That means the Santa Monica Police Department has to respond to every other call they have before attending to a report of pot smoking in someone’s home.
City officials also have first-hand experience with the subject of regulation.
In 2007, city officials put together a 73-page report showing possible locations for dispensaries in reaction to a request by Nathan Hamilton to open a dispensary on the 2200 block of Main Street.
Key issues put forward at the time are similar to those that they will address on Thursday, including what kind of permit should be used for the dispensary and establishing minimum distances between the facilities and other things like schools, parks, residences or churches.
The report goes on to ask what kinds of regulations should be included, such as whether or not patients should be able to smoke their medicine on-site or how many plants could be grown there.
Hours of operation and warning signs could also be considered.