Medical marijuana is coming back to Long Beach, but it will now be joined by an educational campaign that seeks to inform youths of the dangers of marijuana usage and legal users of the drug of the ramifications of operating their vehicles while under the influence.
The item, introduced by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, was unanimously approved by the city council with an 8-0 vote. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who presided over the meeting in place of Mayor Robert Garcia, said that the issue has always been viewed through the lens of how to protect the youth and public safety, adding that education is the key.
“On this issue we’ve seen a lot of conflict on the council about the right thing to do, but on this specific issue I agree with you one hundred percent,” Richardson said. “As we move forward into new terrain—and I know we’ve seen different iterations of medical cannabis in Long Beach—what hasn’t changed is everyone’s commitment to youth and public safety.”
Price’s item is a directive for the city’s health department to begin looking into ways to coordinate a public educational outreach regarding the substance, including pursuing possible grants to help pay for the production and dissemination of the materials. Although having unanimous support from the council, City Attorney Charles Parkin pointed out that this item has no enforcement mechanism to compel dispensaries to participate. Participation, though, could be used as part of an incentive program.
"The item isn’t meant to be intrusive or force anyone to do anything, it’s really an opportunity to extend the olive branch and say ‘can we work together to meet our common goals?’” Price said.
She likened participation in the program to that of the bars that exist in her district on the 2nd Street strip. She noted that many of those businesses have taken a proactive and non-city directed approach to safety when it comes to alcohol sales and consumption. To require businesses to partake in a safety campaign, she said, would make for a disingenuous effort by them to push safety at their storefronts.
Voters in Long Beach approved Measure MM in the November 2016 election which peeled back the city’s prohibition on dispensaries operating in the city and laid out certain specifications that potential business owners must meet to be considered for a marijuana business license.
Some of those items, including signs in the businesses’ windows notifying patrons of compliance, employee education on legal sales and an element geared toward youth education—all things Price’s item is asking for—were written into the voter approved measure. If specifications like the educational components for both employees and users are met during the application process the applicant would be rewarded additional points that would improve their chances of obtaining a business license through the city.
Stefan Borst Censullo, a marijuana lawyer who’s overseeing the applications of several prospective Long Beach business owners, pointed that out adding his opinion that Price’s item was merely an attempt to set precedents to discriminate against dispensaries and their patrons.
“This is the same legal strategy of using land use policies as opponents of abortion used to collaterally tax clinics after their constitutionality was established by the Supreme Court,” Borst-Censullo said. “By declaring, that despite evidence to the contrary, that marijuana DUIs are an immediate threat to public safety, she’s laying down the legal and political precedent needed to justify increased staffing levels for the police as well as further use of racially discriminatory checkpoints, all under the pretext of preventing DUIs.”
An educational campaign, or in Colorado’s case, education mixed with fear of being arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana has seemingly worked. A collaborative effort taken on by the state, dispensaries and the state’s department of transportation have some in Colorado pointing to those efforts as the catalyst in the drop in marijuana DUI arrests reported last year.
Nick Morrow, a retired narcotics detective and member of the Long Beach medical marijuana task force that brought recommendations to the council back in 2015, agreed that an aggressive local effort could result in a similar reigning in of DUI issues like they did in Colorado.
However, he warned that any information over five years old, specifically the kind being disseminated to police departments, should be thrown out. He urged responsible regulation be the standard for the city.
“We’ve been screwing it up for the last decade and the reason why the voters did what they did is because the people that sit up here failed them,” Morrow said. “That’s why we have the situation we have today.”
What the educational campaign will ultimately look like has yet to be decided, but could include pamphlets, public service announcements and possibly a partnership with the local department of transportation, if the city can strike a similar deal as the state of Colorado did.
Price is confident that the city should be able to acquire the necessary grants to pay for this material which could eliminate the need for dispensary operators to chip in for the expense of the program. A member of the Long Beach Collective Association in attendance at last night’s meeting said that the industry looked forward to working with the city on this outreach effort.