Santa Monicans for Safe Access (SAMOSA) believes that the Petition filed May 21 regarding medical marijuana dispensaries is insincere (“City Hall Gives Go-ahead on Pot Initiative” May 23, 2014). We urge all Santa Monicans NOT to sign the Petition. At best, it is a vested interest working to benefit only themselves. At worst, it is an inside interest trying to trick the People. In any case, if this makes it to the ballot it will not bring safe local access to medical marijuana for resident-patients for the following reasons.

o The Petition does not safeguard children by calling for a 650′ distance from schools. SAMOSA has encouraged a distance of 1,000′. Federal guidelines issued last year warned cities not to implement rules for dispensaries with less than a 1,000′ proximity to schools. It is probable that any ordinance with a distance requirement of less than 1,000′ from schools will not be respected by the federal government, even a voter approved one. This is already the case in Los Angeles where the DEA continues to shutdown dispensaries closer than 1,000′ from a school.

o In the Petition, the authority to approve or deny a license for a dispensary is vested solely with a single City Staff, the Director of Planning. There is no administrative appeal mechanism. All City licenses with which we are familiar have some administrative appeal mechanism (e.g., a license denied by City Staff is appealable to the Planning Commission, a license denied by the Planning Commission is appealable to the City Council, etc.). Given City Staff’s public opposition to the direction by the Planning Commission and the City Council to write an ordinance for dispensaries, this seems like an odd approval mechanism. It’s a bit like the fox watching the henhouse.

o The ordinance in the Draft Zoning Update (DZU) approved by the Planning Commission has a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) licensing mechanism. A CUP has many attributes to ensure transparency, public input, adherence to the goals of the City and appropriate City control. The Petition has none of these attributes.

o Santa Monica is modeling its ordinance on West Hollywood’s. West Hollywood’s ordinance has approximately 18 Operating Requirements governing a dispensary’s business. The Petition has about six. In fact, one of the Petition’s operating conditions relating to hours of operation would have dispensaries open until 10:00 PM nightly. SAMOSA prefers the Planning Commission’s ordinance in the DZU; which closes dispensaries by 8:00 PM.

o The Petition calls for dispensaries to be located in either 1) the Industrial Conservation District (ICD) or 2) the Healthcare District. Regarding the ICD, City Staff has publically stated ” … [because of] nearby school, the pending Memorial Park Neighborhood Plan and nearby social service uses make this district [the ICD] less desirable.” That is, City Staff has determined that the ICD is unworkable. Regarding the Healthcare District, City Staff said “Although there are impediments that would limit locations within this district created by the recommended 500′ distance requirement from schools, … the vast majority of the HC district near St. John’s could accommodate dispensaries … .” So, even City Staff admitted that at 500′ from schools situating a dispensary in the Healthcare District would be difficult. The Petition calls for a 650′ distance from schools. At that distance, it is impossible. Thus, under the Petition there would be no viable location for a dispensary. Enacting an ordinance with which it is impossible to comply is a poison pill.

There are other oddities in the Petition. Its lead, David Welch, is a Downtown lawyer who represents dozens of illegal dispensaries in Los Angeles. He led a petition in LA which, if it had passed, would have allowed an unlimited number of dispensaries there. Also, the Petition contains a requirement that any proposed dispensary operator possess a ” valid California license to sell Nursery Stock.” Very strangely, the Petition mandates that the Director of Planning give priority to persons who have a series of other specifically defined Santa Monica business licenses; and that these licenses must have already been issued prior to May 9, 2014. Exactly how this relates to proper regulation of a dispensary is a mystery.

Do not be tricked by this Petition. The City Council and the Planning Commission are bringing forward in the DZU a safe, reasonable and transparent ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. Support our local leaders – not Downtown interests.

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