Prospective marijuana business owners looking to Long Beach for a home will have a new buffer requirement to deal with after the city attorney’s office drafts an ordinance updating the city’s municipal code to integrate recently merged state legislations.
The merging of two statewide regulatory frameworks for both the medical marijuana and the recently voter-approved recreational marijuana industries included the inclusion of 600-foot buffers for daycare centers and youth centers. Those buffers were not included in Measure MM, the ballot initiative that brought medical marijuana back to Long Beach when nearly 60 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of ending the city-wide ban.
Under MM, some 32 medical marijuana dispensaries are now eligible to open in Long Beach as long as they fall outside the 1,000-foot buffers (K-12 schools, public beaches) and the 600-foot buffers (public parks, libraries) written into the measure. With the merging of the two state guidelines the city had an option to do nothing, or to implement one or both of the new buffers.
Assistant City Manager Ajay Kolluri said that city staff recommended only adopting the buffer zone for day care centers for a variety of reasons, namely that daycare centers are licensed and tracked by the state, and that the term “youth center’ was too broad and could range anywhere from a karate studio to a birthday party room. The ambiguity, he said, could lead to legal challenges.
“Day care centers are clearly defined by state law, they’re licensed by the state, they’re easily tracked on the state’s department of social services website,” Kolluri said. “Recognizing day care centers will also correct a deficiency in our local initiative, Measure MM, which recognized kindergartens as buffers but not pre-schools.
The Long Beach City Council approved staff’s recommendation to only install the day care buffers and instructed City Attorney Charles Parkin to draft an ordinance that would amend the section of the city’s municipal code regarding medical marijuana businesses. The changes to the ordinance will go into effect at the start of 2018 but won’t affect those already in the application process before that point.
“We believe that that’s fair to treat folks that have worked with the city and applied in good faith and have been part of the system and in the system, not to change the rules in the middle of the application process,” Parkin said.
While the modification to the ordinance was handed down from state legislation, the city is not able to modify the buffer-zone lengths without turning it back over to voters as Measure MM was installed through the ballot box. However, if the city council were to approve the sales of recreational marijuana in Long Beach it would have the ability to set its own standards for that portion of the industry.
Elliot Lewis, who has stakes in three dispensaries undergoing the application process, said that he was appreciative of the city’s grandfathering in of those, like himself, that have already started the process before the day care buffers were adopted. However, he cautioned that by including daycares as an obstacle to opening a dispensary it may set off a purge of day care centers by those looking for openings between the city’s buffer zones.
“What’s going to happen if you include daycares in this initiative is people are just going to go around and buy up daycares,” Lewis said. “The marijuana businesses tend to be lucrative, day cares tend to be less lucrative, not in call cases. The end result is that there are going to be less day cares.