Adam Hijazi discusses regulatory measures during a medical marijuana task force meeting last year. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
Long Beach Neighborhoods First, a coalition of cannabis collectives and patients seeking safe access to medical marijuana in the city announced this week that it too had filed a ballot initiative with the city clerk’s office. It is the second of two ballot initiatives filed with the city clerk this month, and their organizers are optimistic that the necessary amount of signatures will be collected in time to land them on the general election ballot in November.
The group will have 180 days to gather the required signatures to earn it a place on the ballot. According to the city clerk’s office, with the most recent voter registration numbers showing just over 249,000 registered voters in the city, the group will need 10 percent (24,900) of that number to make it onto the November ballot. If it aims to place it on a special election ballot, it would need 15 percent of the registered voters to sign the petition. If passed, it would supplant the city council's vote to continue the ban earlier this month.
The lead petitioner of the initiative is Bob Kelton, a cancer survivor and member of the coalition who believes that the proposal put forth by LBNF will be good for both patients and the communities where they’ll operate.
"With marijuana legalization growing in acceptance and voter support, according to public polls, our initiative represents a winning model for Long Beach and the Golden State," Kelton said in a statement. "Responsible collectives, patients, residents, and the cannabis workforce all have a strong interest in bringing this industry out of the shadows to protect neighborhoods, generate city revenues and guarantee safe access to medical treatment."
The proposal is noticeably different from the “Long Beach Medical Cannabis Facilities Act of 2016,” a measure filed earlier this month by a separate group of advocates, including Marcus Musante, a candidate who hopes to replace 44th District Congresswoman Janice Hahn in this year’s election. While that act calls for a virtual free-for-all with little to no zoning restrictions or limits on cultivation sites or dispensaries, Kelton’s group filed a more tempered initiative that used previously discussed plans as a framework for their proposal.
The LBNF proposal calls for 1,000-foot buffers from all schools, 600-foot buffers from parks, beaches and libraries and 1,000-foot buffers from other collectives. It also puts a flexible, per-capita based limit on dispensaries—one dispensary for ever 18,000 residents—while providing the city council the opportunity to increase that number to one for every 15,000 residents if it finds it suitable. Under those terms, the proposed ordinance would allow for around 25 dispensaries city wide.
Adam Hijazi, a board member of the Long Beach Collective Association and part of the coalition that filed the initiative, said a lot of the plans the city council eventually voted down were included in the measure, including about 90 percent of the application process that was vetted by the city attorney’s office.
Hijazi also served on the city’s Medical Marijuana Task Force and helped craft the nearly 50 recommendations that the city council voted to receive and file last year. Several of those zoning regulations were also included in the ballot initiative.
“We definitely came from a pretty well-rounded approach, being that we’ve been involved in Long Beach, caring for Long Beach for such a long time,” Hijazi said. “I think we brought something forward that’s in compliance with state law and looks after Long Beach’s landscape as well.”
He called the ballot measure both workable for the city, in terms of regulation, and for patients in regard to safe access. The buffer zones implemented will allow for collectives to operate in all districts while keeping them in commercial and industrial zones.
“One of the community’s and council’s concern was that there would be over-concentration in one district or two districts potentially,” Hijazi said. “The way that this is written is it will be fair and balanced, so you will have access throughout the city, as equally as possible.”
This was a concern voiced by some members of the council during study sessions last year; Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson stated his district looked like “Captain America’s headquarters” because of the concentration of available blue and red commercial and industrial zones that the original buffer maps created in the ninth district.
A question of how much money can actually be raised by the medical marijuana industry making a return to the city was a big topic of debate among advocates and some members of the council. Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who’s been outspoken against the industry because of the potential strain it would put on the police department which is already understaffed, quoted city staff records that showed the industry to be a break even venture at best after increased appropriations to public safety to police the industry.
Hijazi’s group thinks those numbers are wrong.
While he admits that at this point its purely speculative, the proposed six percent tax on gross receipts and $10 per square foot on cultivation sites is believed to create far more revenue than the $3 million annual figure projected by city staff. Hijazi said that figure could easily be double or triple the $3 million in annual revenue the city staff projected.
Even more than that, he said the industry stands to provide hundreds of well-paying jobs in the city, something that has attracted the endorsement and support from local labor groups. Like Hijazi, Rick Elden an executive director of the UFCW Local 324 said the proposal can serve as a model to rest of the state while making patient access in Long Beach safer.
"The broad backing for this initiative shows California how we can move legal cannabis forward responsibly," Elden said. "Long Beach can lead the way by getting illicit activity out of our neighborhoods [and] creating an environment for good-paying jobs while raising needed tax revenues for the city."