Santa Monicans have long pooh-poohed pot in their city, but this counter-cannabis attitude could soon be changing as City Council has indicated an interest in legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana.

In 2017, shortly after recreational weed was legalized statewide, Santa Monica passed an ordinance restricting local sales to medicinal purposes. This ordinance only allows for two dispensaries to operate, lays out strict rules for where they may be located and requires hefty permitting fees. So far, no dispensary has been able to open in this highly regulated environment, although two businesses are in the works. 

The ordinance is set to expire in 2023, at which point Council may vote to extend it or consider expanding it to include recreational sales. Currently, it appears that Council is more interested in the latter.

In a May 10 Council meeting, the five members present voted unanimously to support a motion directing the City Manager’s Office to prepare a study session on allowing the sale of non-medicinal cannabis.

“We were looking at how much revenue is being lost to neighboring Los Angeles and we started talking about what can we do you know to provide more access for those residents that benefit from cannabis and also to bring our policies up to the times,” said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre. “Los Angeles has a recreational policy, Santa Monica still has an archaic policy of having to deliver a doctor’s note in order to have access to cannabis.”

The upcoming study session will include options on potential dispensary locations, the permitting process, expanding the maximum number of businesses allowed and ways to make the cannabis business accessible to low-income individuals and communities most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. It will also include information on allowing for larger-scale cannabis events in specific areas, such as a potential Cannabis trade show/convention in the Barker Hanger. 

During the discussion period, Councilmember De la Torre suggested the City also consider allowing recreational cannabis delivery businesses.

“We do also have a very strong appetite to ensure that there’s an equity provision so that individuals that have had problems with the law get second opportunities to enter the business as well and maybe delivery might be a cheaper way for them to participate,” said de la Torre. 

Currently, dispensaries can only operate 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.

In 2018, City selected two vendors to be allowed to operate in the City out of 21 applicants. Their opening was delayed by an appeal process of almost two years, during which several applicants protested their exclusion. City Planning ultimately upheld the original selection decision and issued Preliminary Selection Letters for two retailers in November 2020.

One of the two selected vendors, CPC Compassion Inc, has successfully secured a lease and in October 2021 received a Conditional Use Permit to operate. According to Paul Song, the founder of CPC Compassion’s parent company Calyx Peak, CPC Compassion has recently received its construction permits and is about to move forward with renovations with plans to open doors before the end of the year. 

While Song’s dispensary will specialize in medicinal uses of marijuana, he said he would be excited by the prospect of also offering recreational sales.

“I think it [recreational sales] would be easier versus trying to have people pay for a medicinal card or recommendation letter, which is much harder to come by now than it was back when the whole state was medicinal,” said Song. “I think we would be supportive if they [City Council] did that, but if not, we’re certainly prepared to continue to abide by them and follow the rules.”

Song also said he was looking forward to sharing medicinal and therapeutic marijuana products with the community, which he feels there is an even stronger need for following the pandemic. Even if recreational sales were to be legalized, spreading awareness on the health benefits of marijuana would continue to be the primary focus of CPC Compassion. 

“If you look at the increase in amounts of opioid deaths, if you look at the amount of increased deaths from benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, things of that nature, we are in a very much healthcare crisis,” said Song. “One of the things that our goal was with the medicinal element, was to be able to educate our community on how they could find alternative ways to address their pain or their difficulty with sleep or anxiety.”