It’s been nearly a year since the Long Beach City Council instructed a medical marijuana task force to figure out if and how the city could once again incorporate the cannabis industry back within the city’s borders.
Countless hours have been spent among the city staff and the council itself since the task force presented its findings to the council—which further deliberated and constructed an ordinance over the course of several months that would allow for delivery-only medical dispensaries to exist in the city.
As the council seemed poised to approve the ordinance—one that was viewed by advocates and patients as too restrictive and disingenuous— it suddenly pulled the plug on it, instead voting unanimously to continue the city’s current ban and wait for a ballot measure from either the state or local voters in the coming months.
“I think the original intent was to put forth sound public policy and take a step in that direction and that’s not what’s happening today,” Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson said before requesting a receive and file of the ordinance. “I think this is really insincere and it’s really a waste of time and resources.”
Richardson’s motion drew applause from medical marijuana supporters in the crowd, many of whom are confident that a ballot measure will be passed and not only undo the city’s ban, but provide more lax regulations than the proposal that was voted down last night.
Under the ordinance that the council shot down, the earliest that the city would’ve seen a delivery-only operation would’ve been January of next year. Because the city would’ve required those business owners operating delivery-only to reapply for a separate conditional use permit if the city’s study found that the dispensaries weren’t having a negative impact on the city, the earliest a storefront would’ve opened was October 2017. The option to for the council to consider expanding the ordinance to its stipulated max of seven dispensaries citywide would’ve been pushed to March 2019 at the earliest, according to city staff.
The arduous process and policy prompted Richardson to request the receive and file and led others on the council that previously supported the city’s efforts to allow for medical cannabis facilities to support his motion.
Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, who in September spearheaded the effort to get the city out in front of any statewide proposals that would’ve superseded local legislation, said that the city had not done the best it could have with the proposed ordinance.
“Our job is to actually know the pulse of our community and what saddens me is that we had so many opportunities to do the job, to do a good job,” Lowenthal said. “We called on many people to participate in a task force and we really just let everyone down with a policy that’s not a great one and one that’s not workable for the city.”
While the vote was unanimous, the only member of the council who seemed to be happy with the continuance with the ban was Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price who had fought against the initiative because of forecasted costs to the city. Price said the vote was music to her ears, as it would potentially save the city from investing money into an industry that was projected to be break even at best. According to city staff, the influx of funding for public safety to patrol possible storefronts was around $5 million, with projected tax revenue from the sale of medical cannabis being about $3 million annually.
“I think it’s pretty clear what the fiscal impact of this marijuana statute would be for the City of Long Beach,” Price said. “By all accounts, any adoption of medical marijuana as an industry in the city of Long Beach is going to have a negative fiscal impact at a time when we need more police officers patrolling our streets and helping us deal with the rise in crime, and that is the reality.”
The council’s action comes on the same day that the California Medical Association, which represents more than 40,000 members in the state, endorsed a proposed ballot initiative for the November voting cycle that could legalize medical marijuana in California. The city attorney advised the council that any initiative voted into action by residents would override the ban.
The public comment portion of the hearing was subdued and less robust than in past discussions on the topic that regularly garnered hours of discussion from the public. The normal arguments pertaining to the merits of the drug as a prescription for sick people and the denouncing of the drawn out process to bring the industry were heard.
Jeff Abrams, a vocal advocate and business owner read a prepared speech in which he criticized the council’s seven-year “charade” of trying to bring the industry back to the city. His statement seemed to summarize the sentiment that has been expressed by a majority of supporters and patients for years; that the council isn’t interested serving the will of the people, one that’s reflected a desire for the city to provide for safe access to needed medicine.
“There really is no adherence to constituent needs and wants by this council,” Abrams said. “A recent 74 percent approval by ballot and over 43,000 signatures must mean nothing to this council except neat sound bites and more lip service to patients. For one second think patients’ needs, not stoners’ needs. This is medicine, period.”
Twice in the last six years, a city ballot initiative has overwhelmingly shown that voters support medical marijuana being allowed in the city, with over 72 percent of voters approving Measure B in 2010 that approved recreation use of marijuana in the city, an in 2014 when 74 percent of the vote cleared the way for the city to set a tax schedule for medical marijuana businesses. The issue seems headed toward another vote if organizers are able to gather enough support and signatures to place it on an upcoming ballot.