The Long Beach planning commission voted unanimously Thursday night to forward suggestions to the city council that would amend the city’s zoning codes to carve out allowed spaces for recreational cannabis should the city council vote to allow the industry into the city later this year.

In voting to forward the zoning recommendations to the council the planning commission has advanced what could be a part of the regulatory framework that would govern recreational cannabis sales in Long Beach. The council is expected to hear the item in the coming weeks as a 180-day temporary moratorium it implemented in mid-December will expire June 18.

The council still holds broad powers over the suggestions in zoning passed onto it by the planning commission, but also over business license regulations and other hurdles that prospective business operators might have to clear to do business in the city. Other items like how much security, types of fire prevention and product regulation will be unveiled when the council takes up the issue in the coming weeks.

As far as zoning goes, no changes were made to staff recommendations to buffers that largely mirrored those imposed through the voter-approved Measure MM that put 1,000-foot buffers in place between dispensaries and schools and public beaches as well as 600-foot buffers from parks and libraries.

Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais stated that there may be a benefit to those 32 dispensaries that have either completed or are undergoing a review process to operate in the city; they could be granted special status when it comes to potentially operating recreational and medical sales out of the same location.

He said they would be granted similar status as those prospective business owners who had won the city’s previous lottery to open up in town prior to the passage of MM. Those lottery winners were grandfathered into the city’s permitting process after voters approved the measure in November 2016.

“We’ll continue to have that grandfathering status for recreational marijuana, so if council adopts the staff’s recommendations they’ll basically be able to colocate recreational marijuana dispensaries with medical marijuana dispensaries,” Mais said. “The applicants that fall under chapter 5.90 [the municipal code chapter created through Measure MM] which are basically the 32 that have been either permitted already or are in the process of obtaining their permits.”

There was minimal disagreement with the proposed zoning mostly having to do with the fact that some arms of the businesses (cultivation, distribution, testing and in some cases dispensaries) would have to acquire a special permit from the city in order to operate in certain zones.

Larry King, a dispensary owner and member of a city task force in 2015 that ultimately failed to hammer out a legal framework for the industry, said that without affording the same permissions to recreational businesses as are afforded to medical operations it could serve as a fatal blow to the industry that may be ultimately overrun by the recreational operations.

“This will be the kiss of death especially when the medical designation is gone and everything is adult use,” King said.

The commission left the recommendations unchanged as they did not want to potentially open the door to future disputes with other business owners that might want to have preferential zoning alterations made for their benefit.

“We see a lot of uses that come to us for consideration and I just can’t see making a special provision for recreational marijuana, especially retail or cultivation, that would lead to a precedent that would open the door for anyone else to come to us and say that ‘we should also get that,’” Commissioner Mark Christoffels said. “Right now you can obviously purchase tea products in a retail location. Maybe I want to grow my own tea leaves and cultivate them all in one location. Well currently that wouldn’t be allowed. We as a regulatory agency have to be consistent in what we do in this community.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.

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