by Jennifer Maas
Santa Monica Daily Press
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a trio of related bills Oct. 9, creating a regulatory system for medical cannabis that could be imposed statewide if it gains enough votes as a 2016 ballot initiative.
The effects of the new legislation, the Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act, will not be lost on the City of Santa Monica, which passed a new zoning ordinance in June allowing for up to two medical cannabis dispensaries within city limits. The ordinance was passed on the order that the dispensaries also secure a conditional use permit and comply with other public safety requirements.
On July 28, the City Council directed staff to explore how best to allocate the dispensary permits to encourage the greatest community compatibility and benefits, including provisions such as free or discounted service for low-income patients.
According to an Oct. 12 city memo, “staff is currently analyzing other cities’ practices for permitting and licensing medical cannabis dispensaries within their jurisdictions to best determine how to enact a permitting process in Santa Monica that is reflective of Council’s direction and vision.”
The memo also states that the passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act will offer requirements and regulations for Council to consider during the permitting process.
“This comprehensive legislation would pave the way for state regulation of the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, storage, distribution and sale of the medical cannabis in California,” the memo reads. “Having a statewide regulatory system in place that still respects the autonomy of local governments will set the stage for further statewide cannabis regulation should the aforementioned ballot measure receive vote approval.”
According to the memo, local jurisdictions and municipalities will be able to adopt ordinances and regulations establishing additional standards for licensing and permitting. If they choose to do so, municipalities could also effectively ban delivery services within their borders.
Multiple attempts by the Daily Press to contact the City for comment were unsuccessful, but other Santa Monica community groups voiced their opinions on the new legislation and its potential effects on the approved dispensaries.
Santa Monica High Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) representative Heather Winters believes the legislation to be a great jumping-off point but that it’s just the beginning of the conversation.
“We think it is great,” Winters said. “It is really great general guidance, but it’s just a foundation. That coupled with the fact it’s not even effective until 2018 means we need to focus on what the city will do in the meantime. We need some definitive guidelines. It is a positive starting point, but there are not really provisions for how far it can be from a school and things like that. So we need more.”
The PTSA has created a resolution on behalf of its students and school community to recommend certain requirements for any proposed marijuana dispensaries, which includes proposed hours of operation for the dispensaries and an objection to the sale of any consumable medical marijuana products.
Bill Leahy of Santa Monicans for Safe Access (SAMOSA) said that the passage of the act means that cities will now have state-level support for implementing safe access to medical marijuana for their residents.
“SAMOSA supports these rules, which were co-sponsored by both the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association,” Leahy said. Under the act, Leahy said, “any dispensary operator must first have a city license before it can apply for a state license,” and because of this Santa Monica’s ordinance will fit well into these state rules.
SAMOSA also believes that Santa Monica’s ordinance appropriately balances residents’ concerns while still 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.
According to the city memo, under the new act cities will have the authority to revoke permission to operate should any established local or statewide regulations be violated and will also have the authority to impose local fees and taxes.
The legislation also expressly protects existing local zoning ordinances and constitutional police power.
Council staff will be analyzing the new legislation and determining how state law may inform a local permitting process, according to the memo. Once this next step is complete, staff will return to Council with further information and recommendations.