Long Beach residents will determine the fate of medical marijuana in the city when they head to the polls this November, after the city council voted last night not to draft a competing ordinance and place the community-generated initiative in the hands of the people.
The council went into last night’s meeting with three options laid out; to adopt the ballot initiative without alteration once the certification of signatures is presented to council, to approve it being placed on the November 8 ballot for a vote for a study to come back before the council before it took action on the matter.
At the urging at the departing Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, the vote was tweaked minimally, with the council voting to add it to the November ballot and requesting a report to come back before the council, prior to the vote. That analysis will look at the fiscal impact of the ordinance if passed, its effect on land use and any potential increased costs if the initiative were to pass. It’s estimated that placing the item on the ballot will cost the city about $509,000.
A petition, titled the Regulation of Medical Marijuana Businesses, received over 35,000 signatures and had those signatures verified by the city clerk’s office earlier this month. A random sample showed that of the over 1,000 signatures tested over 84 percent were valid, non-duplicate entries. The clerk's office used this projection to estimate the initiative had the necessary number to meet the standard of roughly 27,400 to make it to the November ballot.
If passed, the initiative would repeal the section of the Long Beach Municipal Code that prohibits the operation of medical marijuana businesses inside the city and would replace it with the ability for as many as 25 storefronts to open citywide. It would also allow for those businesses to operate with 1,000 foot buffer zones from schools and other collectives, 600 foot buffers from parks, beaches and libraries and places a cap of one dispensary for every 18,000 residents.
Storefront operating hours would be constrained to between the hours of 9:00AM and 8:00PM, and the sales from those businesses are slated to be taxed at a rate of six percent projecting millions of dollars of potential revenue for the city.
Last month, the council visited the option of drafting a competing ordinance to be placed on the ballot but that move was ultimately shot down. The motion was headed by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who has stood in staunch opposition to lifting the ban in Long Beach.
Price has defended her position by stating that any projected revenue from the industry would be offset by the increased need for police patrols around the storefronts, a sentiment shared by the Long Beach Police Department. She pushed for a previously failed proposal, one that would allow for delivery only services first with a phased-in approach to brick and mortar locations after an evaluation period, to be placed on the ballot.
That was quickly shot down by her colleagues, including Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, who had championed the industry’s return for the sake of its patients located in Long Beach. She called the ballot initiative and the 35,000 signatures an indication of the council’s failure to act.
“Let’s not forget that that voter initiative took place because we did not do our job,” Lowenthal said during last month's meeting. “That’s important to note. We don’t get all these bites at the apple because now there’s this voter initiative and we feel we need to put a competitive item on the ballot. I think that’s highly disrespectful.”
The tax revenue element of the initiative took a new turn yesterday when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to place its own marijuana initiative on the ballot. With a 3-2 vote, the board presented the county’s voters with the option to tax the industry up to 10 percent of gross receipts to help combat homelessness int the county. The tax is projected to raise somewhere between $78-$130 million annually.
The Long Beach initiative may be a moot point as the a statewide initiative that could legalize recreational use of marijuana has also made it onto the November ballot. If that passes it could supersede what happens with the municipal vote in a city that has a history of approving marijuana related measures. In 2014 Long Beach voted to approve a tax schedule for the industry in 2014 with 74 percent support and in 2010 it voted to approve recreational use of marijuana with 72 percent support.