The future of medical cannabis in the City of Long Beach was delayed again Tuesday night, as the city council voted to postpone action until September, when recommendations from a citizen task force created in April could provide it with more direction.
The unanimous vote calls for the task force to complete its work by August 21, including any recommendations it will be making to the council in advance of the September 1 meeting, where the council is expected to take action. The work by the task force has been slowed by the sheer amount of topics the council has asked to be explored as the city weighs whether or not to bring medical marijuana back into the fold.
The request to not receive and file the motion was initiated by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who pointed out the inconsistencies in the items listed and questioned whether or not they were in fact “recommendations.”
“If you look at the list, there’s a recommendation on there that the city’s current ban continue and another that says we should wait until 2016 to see where the initiative process goes and there are actual land use recommendations,” Price said. “The list isn’t even consistent in its theme in direction for council.”
Deputy City Attorney Mike Mais, who has been present at every task force meeting except one, said that the document was in fact a running list of topics that had yet to be vetted by the task force. He noted the topics were supposed to be discussed at length during last week’s scheduled meeting, before it was cancelled due to the downtown power outage.
The list includes “recommendations” ranging from the complete ban referenced by Price, to eliminating print advertising for dispensaries, allowing for home delivery and even outlining how long a person would need to live in the city prior to applying for a license (2 years) and establishing individual growers’ ability to sell to other patients.
However, the topics are so far just that, and are expected to be worked through over the next several weeks before a finished version of actual recommendations are presented to the council.
Price said that getting involved at this point and dissolving the task force while they still have meetings scheduled and topics to debate would send a bad message to residents looking to be civically engaged.
“I think it sets a bad precedent for us to get involved and basically call a list of items that they’ve put together recommendations and call it a day,” Price said. “It sets a bad precedent for our future engagement of the community in terms of citizen advisory commissions.”
Jack Smith, who was appointed to the task force by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, agreed with the motion to postpone until September, pointing out that the document being discussed was actually the agenda from the cancelled task force meeting from last week. In fact, Smith said the only approved recommendations aren’t even on the document because they were included in minutes that never were approved, due to the power outage.
“It makes no sense at all for you to get this list of tentative recommendations, and in any way think that this is how the task force stands,” Smith said.
While pushing back a decision to September will give the task force time to comb through the 40-plus topics included in the document, as well as help the council properly debrief, not everyone was pleased with the news to postpone. The discussion to reschedule drew audible groans from some medical patients in the crowd, some of whom have testified during previous council meetings on the inconveniences imposed by the city’s ban and their discontent with the makeup of the task force itself.
Medical cannabis advocacy lawyer and former city employee Stefan Borst-Censullo said that the city has merely shifted the burden of developing an ordinance to the task force, when, time after time, ballot measures have proven that the people of the city overwhelmingly approve of medical cannabis. He said another delay of the ordinance, or trying to push through the one currently proposed (what he described as a “lawsuit bomb”), would only result in another ballot measure if the State of California doesn’t pass legislation first.
“You’ve run out of time,” Borst-Censullo said. “You’ve had since 1996 to pass a workable ordinance and you’ve had seven years since it’s been a primary issue within the City of Long Beach. Four of the members of this elected body have been here for the entirety of their term dealing with this specific issue. And what has changed? Nothing.”
The timeliness, or lack thereof, for an ordinance to established wasn’t a concern held by those outside of the task force. Adam Hijazi, another Lowenthal appointment, was pleased that the September 1 date was fixed, as it will provide a concrete timeline for council action.
“There hasn’t been safe access within Long Beach for the last three years, and hopefully you can bring back safe access to these patients in a model that can actually work and that can be a model for up and down the state,” Hijazi said. “A lot of people, and other cities, are looking toward Long Beach.”