The approval of a June zoning ordinance that would allow for up to two medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits spurred the Santa Monica High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) to pass a resolution full of proposed requirements for the permitting process for said dispensaries. That resolution has since received several objections from Santa Monicans for Safe Access (SAMOSA).
The co-chair of the health and safety commission of the Samohi PTSA, Heather Winters, said the idea for the resolution came about shortly after the school year started. The resolution was brought up at a meeting in early September, a draft was developed and by the end of the month it was passed.
“I think just generally speaking we know that high school is the time when kids start experimenting and getting access to [marijuana] and we’re not turning a blindeye to that in any way, shape or form,” Winters said. “It’s not necessarily that there is a problem that perpetuates [at Samohi], we are just parents that know that this is the time, this is the place, where this can start.”
The resolution includes three preliminary requirements and nine operational requirements for dispensaries, but Winters said it is really not about any one topic to the PTSA.
“It’s more about recognizing that we know what is happening in the city,” she said. “We know they will be issuing the permits eventually, and we want to make sure they are held to the highest standard. So we have several [requirements] in there. We want to make sure the City goes above and beyond and sets a higher standard for other communities. And the bottom line is that all of the [requirements] affect the safety and health of our kids first and foremost.”
Winters said the PTSA knows that experts will be evaluating the City’s permitting process, but the PTSA wants to be part of that process. And that is where the resolution comes in.
The PTSA resolution’s preliminary requirements include the provision that dispensaries shall be located at least 1,000 feet from “another dispensary, any school, daycare, nursery, playground, library, or any youth-oriented establishment,” according to applicable law.
Bill Leahy of SAMOSA responded by email, stating that “the planning commission in the [Zoning Ordinance Update] process thoroughly restricted and vetted the areas, sensitive uses and proximities thereto where a dispensary might locate,” and that city staff stated to the council that “any further reduction in these areas, additions to the sensitive uses or increases to the proximities thereto would make it impossible for any dispensary to find a permissible location.”
“If included this resolution would, in fact, make it impossible for any dispensary to situate itself in Santa Monica,” Leahy said.
The PTSA’s preliminary requirements also stated that applications for a permit must include the name and address of the applicant and the proposed location of the dispensary, and that applicants must undergo and successfully complete a background check before obtaining a permit; a provision SAMOSA found in line with state law adopted earlier this month that stated that specific felony convictions should preclude an applicant.
However, SAMOSA believed the final preliminary requirement allowing permits to only be valid for one year, and subject to renewal 60 days prior to expiration, to be impractical.
“Because dispensaries are subject to the CUP process, if it fails to meet those conditions the permit may be revoked at any time,” Leahy said. “Any dispensary operator must invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish a dispensary. If their permit were subject to an annual renewal, no operator would make such an investment. There is no other business in Santa Monica subject to anything like this.”
Though SAMOSA accepted provisions laid out in the PTSA’s resolution that are already in the approved city ordinance (i.e., age restrictions for the premises, verification of physician referrals, no physician services on the premises and no use of marijuana on the premises) they disagreed with several other operational requirements.
SAMOSA believed that the PTSA’s requirement that dispensaries only operate between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, was an “unreasonable restriction” that harms patients and causes dispensaries to be economically unviable.
“After work (i.e., after 5 p.m.) is when most people are able to visit any store,” Leahy wrote. “This is a harsh restriction on patients. The hours of operation contained in the existing ordinance are consistent with West Hollywood’s and all other cities with which we are familiar. Being closed on Sundays makes even less sense, and is reminiscent of “dry county” rules found in Southern states relative to alcohol. There are no restrictions like this for patients obtaining “Big-Pharma” medicine from any pharmacies (which are open 24 hours) or even alcohol (open until 2 a.m.) or even cigarettes (24 hours).”
The PTSA is also asking that dispensaries must verify and document that patients are Santa Monica residents, which Leahy believes is only intended to harm patients.
“There is no business in Santa Monica restricted only to serving documented residents,” Leahy said. “There is no dispensary in California barred from serving a Santa Monica resident. Such a restriction like this seems like bullying intended to unreasonably punish patients and dispensaries. It is also likely illegal. This could cause a dispensary not to be economically viable.”
Leahy also found the request that no consumable medical marijuana products be sold at dispensaries to be detrimental to patients.
“Many patients ingest their medicine only by eatables. Requiring patients to obtain their medicine only in a smokable form seems completely unreasonable, counterintuitive and punitive. Also, this results in a dramatic reduction in the type of medicine any dispensary can offer its patients; which could result in the dispensary being economically not viable.”
Leahy said it is “hard to see” how the resolution is in the interest of the PTSA’s students and school community.
“It is, abundantly clear, however, that seriously ill patients are needlessly and unreasonably harmed and punished under this resolution. Under this resolution, no dispensary operator could physically or economically locate in Santa Monica.”
Winters finds SAMOSA’s response to their resolution both sudden and hurtful.
“It has been within the past few months that the PTSA thought it was in our kids’ best interest to create this resolution. And the school year just started, so we are just getting started. We thought it was in our kids’ best interest to have a response and to address it … I don’t disagree that the patients need reasonable access and that they need to have this. We completely support the patients’ rights in this. We just need to be an advocate for the kids and we need to make sure there isn’t the ability for the kids to run off campus in the middle of the day or bring it back to campus. So I think we can strike a fine balance where the patients who want it get this access without there being bottles on the playground.”
Leahy said SAMOSA believes that Santa Monica’s current ordinance appropriately balances residents’ concerns while affording reasonable access for patients.
“The Council’s decision last July to expeditiously implement safe access exemplifies the City’s tradition of compassionately helping the sick. For far too long, the hardships endured by patients have been worsened by not having local access to a holistic remedy to ease their suffering,” Leahy said.
Ultimately, Winters wants to make sure the PTSA is heard on this matter.
“The goal is to make sure we have a voice, as it is pretty clear there are other groups and advocates who have a voice. And that’s what we’re here to accomplish,” Winters said.