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It appears Californians are coming around to the sale and cultivation of marijuana within the state. The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) passed in 2015 establishing new regulations on the industry and Proposition allowing recreational use will be part of the November election.

However, the increasing acceptance of marijuana is actually delaying implementation of local rules for the sale of marijuana in Santa Monica.

Under the 2015 update to the city’s zoning rules, two marijuana dispensaries are allowed within city limits.

According to the code, dispensaries are limited to locations along Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and Centinela Avenue; along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street; and along Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.

The businesses can be no larger than 2,500 square feet and are prohibited within 600 feet of a childcare and early education or family day care facility, park, school, library, social service center or other medical marijuana dispensary.

The zoning code does not specify how the two dispensaries will be chosen and Council has asked staff to establish guidelines in as timely a fashion as possible.

Following Santa Monica’s adoption of the new zoning code, the State passed a package of bills known as the Marijuana Safety Act. The act establishes standards and penalties for doctors prescribing marijuana, creates a state bureaucracy for regulating the industry and defines specific procedures for cultivation of marijuana.

The State is also developing a permit process for different kinds of marijuana activity such as sale, cultivation and testing.

According to Salvador M. Valles, Assistant Director-Operations for Planning and Community Development, the State might not allow a single business to hold multiple permits, meaning operators will have to decide between retail, cultivation and testing. That would conflict with Santa Monica’s regulations allowing portions of a retail operation to also cultivate.

He said the state permits won’t be available until 2018 and local rules need to be in place by that time, but not necessarily before.

Valles said another council-level discussion is needed to clarify the city’s stance and holding that discussion after the November vote will allow the city to also adapt to the potential passage of Prop. 64, a ballot measure that would allow recreational use for adults.

“The city has chosen to wait until all of this settles down and come back to council with something more comprehensive,” he said.

According to Valles, if dispensaries are prohibited from cultivation and testing, staff need to know if council want to allow testing/cultivation in the city. If so, what a new regulatory framework needs to be developed. He said additional legal questions are also on the horizon.

“The City Attorney needs to weigh in in terms of their thoughts relative to what the law says and how does it relate to our zoning ordinance. There are some important questions and the conversation we want to have with council is a full discussion and come back with a full solution.”

Bill Leahy, spokesperson for Santa Monicans for Safe Access, said the city already has regulatory authority to move forward on selecting possible vendors and he said the proposed delays would only hurt patients who are need of safe access. He said the city could begin vetting potential operators immediately and develop a list of qualified candidates that could be used to streamline the selection process once any lingering questions are settled.

He referenced a recent letter written to the Daily Press outlining SAMOSA’s position that said all marijuana regulations remain in local control regardless of November’s vote.

“The California Supreme Court made the matter of local control perfectly clear in its 2013 ruling. Santa Monica’s ordinance, which was adopted last July, is already commensurate with the MMRSA and Prop. 64. There is nothing that conflicts.  In fact, Santa Monica’s ordinance contains rules that are more strict than the MMRSA and Prop. 64.”

He said the city has already taken too long in implementing the ordinance and cited the ability of nearby cities like Malibu, West Hollywood and Palm Springs to regulate the industry within their borders.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...