There will be no competing November medical cannabis ballot initiative for voters to choose from when they head to the polls later this year, after a motion to explore the possibility of the Long Beach City Council crafting one quickly went up in smoke Tuesday night.
An agenda item aimed at visiting that option quickly fell apart, with a majority of the city council citing numerous attempts over the better part of decade for the council to put forth legislation to regulate the industry, all of which had ended in failure. Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, as she has in the past, led the charge to allow the voters to decide the fate of the industry in Long Beach, stating that it would be an abuse of the council’s authority to try and undermine the proposed ballot initiative with a competing initiative.
“Let’s not forget that that voter initiative took place because we did not do our job,” Lowenthal said. “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 proposal to have the city attorney’s office craft a “sensible, financially sustainable, fiscally prudent” ordinance for consideration to be placed on the ballot came at the request of Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who since this current council has taken up the issue of regulating medical cannabis, has been a pariah for industry advocates for her long-held , hardline stance that the city simply cannot support a “break even” industry with the increased costs to public safety agencies needed to police it. The proposal was supported by council members Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw.
Price has echoed the sentiment from the Long Beach Police Department that the industry would be a neighborhood nuisance that would impact the department’s operations by increasing calls for service to dispensaries. In December, she proposed a phased-in approach to the industry in the form of a delivery-only operation, with the potential for those operators to be converted to storefronts if it was found that their operations had no negative impacts on the community.
The Price initiative, which was referenced as a basis for the competing initiative, would’ve allowed for four initial delivery businesses with the ability to expand to seven total storefront and delivery operations citywide. That item was voted down earlier this year giving way to the voter initiative that is now slated to be on the November 8 ballot.
Her role as a deputy district attorney in Orange County led some members of the public to question whether or not she could preside over such a legislative decision because of potential conflict between her day job as a prosecutor and a vote that could potentially legalize a substance that countless people have been imprisoned for being in possession of.
"In this case, because Councilwoman Price makes her living off the illegality of the substance in question she should recuse herself from voting,” said Diana Legins, an advocate for disability rights. “It is a blatant conflict of interest.”
Others, including two public defenders from Orange County, questioned the merits of her previously proposed delivery-only ordinance, noting that dispensaries provide a level of expertise for new customers who may not know correct dosages or how to properly use cannabis to address their needs. Michael Mooney, a Second District resident, said the delivery-only set up would force law-abiding citizens into situations reminiscent of the very clandestine drug deals that get people arrested.
“That’s the choice you’re giving people with delivery only transactions,” Mooney said. “Either conduct this business in the same way that illegal drug transactions are done, or you don’t.”
Over 35,000 signatures have been collected and are in the process of being verified by the city clerk’s office before it’s officially placed on the ballot, but with a threshold of about 25,000 verifiable signatures needed it appears voters will get a shot at the issue. The ordinance calls for 1,000 foot buffer zones from schools and other collectives, 600-foot buffers from parks, beaches and libraries and a cap of one dispensary for every 18,000 residents—roughly 25 citywide.
The proposal is similar to previous to votes that failed to pass the council floor in the past year and half, but the maximum amount of allowable dispensaries proposed in the ordinance’s language is nearly triple. Price called for a study of the impacts of this proposed ordinance, but that motion was voted down by her colleagues.
“Nothing that we’ve discussed previously is included in this initiative,” Price said. “The buffers have changed, the CUPs have changed, the tax base has changed, the land use has changed. We have not analyzed this current proposed initiative.”
An analysis is expected at some point to explore how the ordinance could impact the city as passed, but one carried out under the pretext of creating a competing initiative all but died with last night’s vote. The deadline for the council to have placed a competing initiative on the ballot is August 2.
Long Beach voters have a history of approving cannabis related initiatives, having approved two votes over the last six years, most recently approving a tax schedule for the sale of medical cannabis in the city in 2014. If this initiative garners the same support that the 2014 vote (74 percent) and a 2010 vote that approved recreational use in the city (72 percent) it should easily pass.
A separate statewide initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, could allow voters to approve the use of recreational marijuana on the same day.
With the 7-1 vote last night—Price the only dissenter—the voters of Long Beach will get another crack at allowing an industry that has had many starts and stops over the past 10 years to operate in the city again, legally. In their comments prior to supporting a receive and file of Price’s request, several council members verbalized their readiness to allow voters to put this issue to bed.
“I think the people have spoken, now there was a petition that was put out there, more than 35,000 people signed it, we're in the process of validating those signatures, there’s a high likelihood that those signatures are going to be valid and there’s going to be a ballot initiative,” Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga said. “What we have here is an opportunity to let the voters speak.”