Santa Monicans for Safe Access (SAMOSA) should like to recognize the wisdom of the SMDP’s article “Is Santa Monica Going to Pot?” (August 3, 2015). An uninformed urban legend persists that medical marijuana dispensaries are some sort of cash cows. Rarely understood and hardly ever distinguished is the enormous difference between “legal” versus “illegal” dispensaries. Also, it is a simple truth that micromanaging how any business operates always leads to a host of unintended consequences. Santa Monica based its ordinance on the very successful model of West Hollywood’s simple ordinance. We suggest that straying far afield from that proven model is imprudent.

Legal dispensaries pay a multitude of costs that illegal dispensaries do not. A short list of these costs include: federal, state and city income taxes; sales taxes; employee benefits, workers’ compensation insurance and payroll taxes; legal, accounting and other professional expenses; and on and on. In fact, the financial structure of legal dispensaries is not materially different from any other similar legal business. The flip-side of this for illegal dispensaries is likewise true: by their very nature illegal dispensaries make lots of money. What’s more, legal dispensaries are deeply involved in many activities like patient education and outreach, charitable giving and providing other community benefits like discounts for needy patients, none of which illegal dispensaries do. And, yet, these legal dispensaries must still operate in a competitive environment with all the illegal dispensaries! Just ask any operator of a reputable, legal dispensary how much money they make. The truth is surprising when compared to the myth.

The City is presently developing selection criteria “to encourage the greatest community compatibility and benefits … such as … requirement[s] that dispensaries provide some free or discounted services for low-income patients.” SAMOSA is a staunch supporter of such selection criteria. However, care should be taken not to micromanage these criteria lest unintended consequences result. Santa Monica ought to set what these criteria are but not how those criteria or goals are attained. Let the operators say how they intend to achieve those goals, and then select whichever operators have the best plan. The City is vastly more likely to have its goals realized this way. That will be to the great benefit of both it and patients. This is how other cities have done this.

Editor, your article is spot-on: micromanaging the operations of a dispensary will certainly make them economically unsustainable and lead to unintended consequences. The City should set criteria or goals for them, but should let those experienced, professional operators figure out how in the real world they are achieved. To do otherwise will surely be to the detriment of resident-patients.

Bill Leahy is part of Santa Monicans for Safe Access.

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