Long Beach City Council moves forward with new medical marijuana ordinance

Bear Guerra/KPCC

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Long Beach City Council members are looking at next steps after voting unanimously on Tuesday to move forward with an ordinance allowing a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries within specific areas of the city.  

The vote called on the city attorney to draft an ordinance that will limit the number of marijuana dispensaries and control their location through a new zoning effort - which the Planning Commission will have to approve.  The city’s Planning Commission may initiate a study session and organize a public hearing and comments session before staffers take their recommendations to the City Council.

“By creating three industrial zones in the city, we want to ensure proportionate medical marijuana sites in all council districts - perhaps two per council district” said Long Beach City Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, one of the plan’s sponsors. “We also want the ordinance to articulate what distance (dispensaries) should be from schools.” 

Supporters of a planned medical marijuana initiative to be placed on Long Beach’s April ballot had already collected 43,000 signatures, but a federal judge on Monday ruled that city officials were not obligated to place the measure on the upcoming special election ballot, because of missing language in the petition. The council’s vote bypasses that initiative process in favor of moving forward with a special zoning ordinance.

In August of 2009, Councilwoman Lowenthal introduced an agenda item to allow regulated medical marijuana sites in Long Beach. That effort led to an ordinance which relied on a lottery system to issue permits for the operation of 32 dispensaries.  A state appeals court ultimately rejected that ordinance because of conflicts between city regulations and federal law.

Lowenthal believes the council this week made significant progress by directing the city attorney to explore where dispensaries can exist through zoning laws.  

“There are vast number of individuals who have various medical conditions that aren’t being served at this time,” said Lowenthal. “They aren’t able to have safe access to a product that they and their physicians believe provide them with the relief that they need.”

Lowenthal says she expects it could take about six months to implement the law. 

“I think through an ordinance process, it allows for us to make incremental steps toward getting it right,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”