By Harry Saltzgaver, Special to the Press-Telegram
Long Beach’s voter-approved medicinal marijuana dispensary ordinance became law on Dec. 23, but those wanting to apply for licenses to operate will have to wait until Jan. 23.
Employees in the city’s Financial Management Department are working with the city attorney’s office to come up with regulations marijuana dispensaries will have to follow. While Measure MM, the ballot proposition approved in the November general election, details many of the requirements to legally dispense medical marijuana, legal regulations must be in place before applications can be accepted, according to Mike Mais, assistant city attorney.
“It goes through the business license division,” Mais said. “When they wrote it (the proposition), they got rid of a lot of the impediments… down to setting up the priorities so lottery winners have priority.”
Mais is referring to a lottery used in 2010 to pick dispensary operators under the city’s previous medical marijuana law. That law was challenged and ultimately ruled unconstitutional, leading to a ban on dispensaries in Long Beach.
In the November general election, Measure MM won 59 percent of the vote. It allows for between 26 and 32 dispensaries, and includes restrictions and buffer zones regarding where a dispensary can be located.
Voters also approved Measure MA, a city-sponsored bill, that sets tax rates on the gross receipts of marijuana sales. Because Measure MA received a higher percentage of yes votes, the city tax rates will take effect once dispensaries are allowed to open.
According to the city’s website, the application period will begin on Jan. 23. It will continue until July 24 for 2010 lottery winners, which are separated into two groups — those who still have the same location where they had originally operated (Priority Group 1) and those who were allowed to operate but are looking for a new location.
People who have never legally operated a dispensary also can apply, but they’ll need to be quick. Non-priority applications will only be accepted between Jan. 23 and Feb. 23.
Application fees are $226.45, paid to the business license bureau, plus the cost of a Live Scan background check by the Long Beach Police Department. Once a dispensary begins to operate, the city collects 6 percent of the gross receipts, with a minimum of $1,000 a year.
The city will only accept tax payments in cash from marijuana dispensary operators. Because marijuana sale still is illegal federally, banks have been refusing to create accounts for medical dispensary operators.
While marijuana cultivation and other marijuana-related businesses (delivery, manufacture of edibles, etc.) were addressed in Measure MM, the city isn’t accepting applications for those operations, and has not set the application period for them at this time.
To complicate matters even more, voters statewide approved the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. But sale of recreational marijuana will be licensed first by the state, then by local governments.
State regulators have until Jan. 1, 2018, to come up with a licensing process. Also, municipalities retain the right to regulate recreational marijuana sales, and Long Beach’s current zoning code does not allow that use.
The Financial Management Department has created a website, www.longbeach.gov/marijuana, with the current information, including application requirements and updates. However, the business license application has to be submitted in person at the Business Services Division on the seventh floor of City Hall.