Long Beach City Council Takes Wait and See Approach as Medical Cannabis Weighed at State Level

Medical cannabis patients in Long Beach will have to wait at least a little while longer for operations to potentially return to the city. On Tuesday night, the city voted to postpone action on recommendations made by a task force while it waits for California legislators to vote on statewide guidelines, a move that is expected to be completed within the next week.

The council voted 8-1 to put off a discussion regarding the industry’s return to Long Beach until its September 22 meeting, when it will have a better idea of what has been approved at the state level. The city attorney has been directed to provide a cross section of the state’s regulations and those currently proposed in the city, so the council can discuss what, if any, would work best for Long Beach.

Mayor Robert Garcia described the “incredible momentum” behind Assembly Bill 266, which is currently being deliberated by the Senate and Governor Jerry Brown’s office. The bill would establish statewide guidelines for cities that wish to implement the industry, but also leaves open the opportunity to continue bans already in place at the city level. State legislators have until September 11 to approve any bill before its current session expires, and if approved, Brown would have 12 days to sign into law.

Garcia prefaced the discussion by the council last night by stating that while the bill is expected to be voted on and approved before the September 11 cutoff date and would most likely be signed into law by the governor, it would still provide Long Beach lawmakers opportunities to tweak zoning regulations like buffer zones and land issues. However, other guidelines, like where the marijuana must be grown, something already vetted by both the planning commission and the medical marijuana task force, would be supplanted by state law.

“The state law does allow for cities to have flexibility just to be clear. If the state law passes it would actually be in direct conflict with a lot of the proposed ordinance that the planning commission has adopted,” Garcia said. “I say that because the “draft ordinance’ that has been in front of the council would not be legal, essentially, in the case of the current body.”

Several members of the council took issue with what was perceived to be a rush for action on the matter considering the cutoff for Brown taking any action is October 11. If Brown does not sign the bill into law or veto it, it will automatically become law 30 days after the State Legislature approved it. Eighth District Councilman Al Austin expressed this view, stating it’s not a guarantee that Brown would sign the bill into law even though is office is taking an active role in drafting it.

Austin was joined by Councilwomen Suzie Price and Stacy Mungo—the lone dissenting vote on the motion—in his want to slow things down and push the discussion back weeks or even a months as the council further deliberates how or if the city could afford to bring the industry back to the city. Price, who has been vocal about her reservations of the proposed ordinance since discussions began again in February, continued down that path Tuesday night in calling for more time for discussion.

“While I understand the urgency and I know several members of the task force are very interested in the outcome of this, some may even have a financial interest, I think it’s important that we’re talking about a week here, or two weeks or three weeks,” Price said. ”Assuming we even voted on this tonight, our city staff has asked us in the form of a memorandum and basically told us as council members that they would not be able to implement anything.”

Price was also the only member of the council to speak at length of the possibility of the city continuing its current ban, something she has openly favored in past discussions because of funding concerns raised by Long Beach Police Department officials.

Larry King, an appointee to the task force that spent some eleven meetings crafting nearly 50 recommendations for the council to consider took exception with the council member’s desires to postpone a process that in his opinion has already been delayed enough. King said that after all this time he was “appalled to still hear the word ban” and illustrated why urgency is needed in telling a story of one of his family members dying because she was not able to access medical cannabis that, in his opinion, could’ve relieved her of a steady diet of prescription pain medications.

“You say what is the hurry? People are dying,” King said. “A member of my immediate family stayed at the house in Long Beach a couple of weeks ago and while I’m apparently wasting my time with the task force, she committed suicide.” 

Others though, spoke with a tone that suggests medical marijuana returning to the city is a now just a formality, especially given the development of state legislators spearheading the structuring of guidelines.

“We’re almost there; we’re at the turn of the Preakness and we’re ready to go home,” said Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, using a horse race analogy to describe the long journey of marijuana legislation in the city. “I’m hoping that when it’s all said and done that we’ll have an ordinance that will be workable, that is going to be very positive and is going to produce some very positive results for the city of Long Beach.”

“Quite frankly I’m glad that the state has stepped up to provide some framework, I was starting to believe that this process had a little bit too many cooks in the kitchen,” Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson added. “This is a cleaner process and I’m in complete support of the motion and I look forward to the conversation on the 22.”

Mayor Garcia said that because state legislators are unlikely to meet on September 11 to recognize the national day of remembrance, a vote is expected to be finalized before then. If approved, the council could start its process of either adopting and amending the state’s legislation or vote to continue the current ban in place in the city.

“I think these two weeks are going to be very decisive weeks in the conversation about medicinal cannabis in the entire state of California and I think we should cautiously listen, see what comes out of the state and then if the council chooses, adopt an ordinance by essentially answering a handful of zoning questions which the city attorney will be able to present,” Garcia said.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.