More than two decades after California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, allowing the state to become the first in the U.S. to allow medical marijuana use by patients, Santa Monica will allow the first two dispensaries to open in the city.

On Tuesday the City Council passed an ordinance that established regulations for both medicinal and recreational cannabis – allowing the former and prohibiting the latter (for now).  The ordinance establishes an application and permitting process for opening up a dispensary and also allows “light manufacturing” of cannabis products within city limits.

City staff must now select an evaluation committee to review applications.  The City expects the retailer selection process to conclude by Spring 2018.  An annual permit fee for the dispensaries will be $1,822 and $99 for manufacturers.

Light manufacturing would allow production of cannabis-based lotions or edibles without a retail storefront in the city.

The dispensaries can only open along a two-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Lincoln to the city limits or on Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th or between 23rd and Centinela Avenue.  The shops may not be within 600 feet of a school, daycare, park, library, social services center, or the other cannabis business.  The ordinance is more restrictive than state law requires, leaving some entrepreneurs complaining they cannot find a storefront.

“This 600-foot restriction is truly not feasible,” Shawn Azizzadeh told the Council.  “I’ve been actively looking for locations that would fit those requirements and I haven’t been able to find anything that is currently on the market.”

There was not much discussion on the dais over non-medicinal cannabis during the City Council meeting.  The state will begin issuing permits Jan. 1 for recreational businesses but has yet to release regulations for the new industry.  California’s top official in charge of those rules said it could be late November before the regulations are finished and published.

“That means we get the regulations to start thinking about what it means at the local level just before the holidays. Those state permits aren’t valid until there is local approval,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said, adding any discussion of what they will mean for Santa Monica at this point is purely speculative. “We have to have a public process to decide what we as a community feel is the right thing to do.”

The Council also directed staff to explore drafting a ballot measure that would create a new business license tax classification and rate for various marijuana-related businesses.  The earliest voters could decide on a proposed measure would be Nov. 2018.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press