CITY HALL — A pair of medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed in the areas surrounding Santa Monica’s hospitals, according to the Draft Zoning Ordinance released last week.

In August, City Council ordered planning officials to include regulations for dispensaries in the zoning draft.

The Planning Commission will discuss the ordinance, which regulates the uses of different areas of the city and various types of businesses, six times starting next month.

After the commission is finished with it, council will debate the draft.

City planner Paul Foley said that he took council’s directions and looked to cities like Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, but mostly West Hollywood to create the dispensary zoning codes

“It’s the same kind of city in some ways,” he said. “We thought that was a good city to look at, to take some things from them, and put our own stuff in.”

In the draft, the dispensaries cannot exceed 2,500 square feet and must be located within the Healthcare District, which is defined as the areas surrounding the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica and Saint John’s Health Center.

Additionally, any medical marijuana dispensary must be at least 500 feet away from a school, park, daycare center or library and the dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from one another.

This is too restrictive, says Bill Leahy of Santa Monicans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. He wonders if the Healthcare District is too small to allow any dispensaries.

“They basically just outlined the hospitals,” he said. “There’s only a handful of buildings there and there are so many variables. Plus, they might be rented. They might be cost prohibitive.”

Leahy suggests expanding the district to encompass the areas between Yale Street and Wilshire, Santa Monica, and Lincoln boulevards.

This, he said, would give flexibility to those looking to open a dispensary.

City officials took some preliminary measurements when defining the district’s boundaries and found that the distance restrictions, as they relate to parks and schools, were not too confining.

“Right now its 500 feet, which is really less than a block on north-south blocks,” Foley said. “So it’s not that onerous, really.”

The 500-foot distance is another point of disagreement for Leahy who points to a state law that prohibits dispensaries from being located within a 600-foot radius of a school.

Further, Leahy suggests expanding the radius to 1,000 feet from schools to protect children and because federal law, which does not recognize California’s legalization of medical marijuana, greatly increases penalties for crimes like drug dealing within that radius.

There are schools located close to the Healthcare District and if the 1,000-foot radius were imposed, Leahy said, the district could not be used by dispensaries. McKinley Elementary School is located about 200 feet northeast of the district, already cutting off some of the buildings for dispensary use.

“This will be fleshed out as we go along,” Foley said. “This is just a draft. As we hear from advocates, if it turns out that there are no locations that they can be located, then we can’t do that. We have to modify it.”

Leahy suggests keeping the distance requirement for parks, daycare centers, and libraries at 500 feet. He is also fine with the two dispensary limit.

The 2,500 square foot limit is too small, he said, and should be expanded to match West Hollywood’s limit of 4,500 square feet per dispensary.

“Sufficient space is needed to properly serve patients,” he said. “They need waiting rooms, and also enough room to provide other holistic medicines.”

The draft is in its earliest stages and could change substantially before it’s finalized.

In August, council voted to extend a one-year moratorium on dispensaries to give city officials time to develop the regulations.

There appears to be support on the City Council for allowing dispensaries. The vote to study the issue was close, 4-3 with Bob Holbrook, Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor opposed.

“If it’s about marijuana dispensaries, over my dead body,” said Holbrook, who had yet to study the draft ordinance.

The Planning Commission’s first planned review of the draft ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 11.

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