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Santa Monica City Councils Steps Closer to Allowing Medicinal 'Pot Shops'  

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By Niki Cervantes

Staff Writer

March 9, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday ordered staff to draft an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, but balked at taking similar action for future shops selling to recreational users.

The 5-0 vote will allow medical pot shops be granted permits after an arduous vetting process. In the case of a tie, the City would use a lottery, officials said.

It took eight years for the council to allow the dispensaries, which have been legal in the state since 1996.

And on Tuesday, council members said they wanted to be just as cautious with sales of cannabis for personal use, which will be allowed in California under newly-passed Proposition 64.

“This is sort of a brave new world for municipalities,” said Council Member Gleam Davis.

The vote represented “a measured step forward,” she said.

But Council Member Kevin McKeown expressed frustration with the City’s snail-like pace on issues involving marijuana.

During the meeting, he had staff play a video taken almost half a century ago of Robert Kennedy telling a TV show audience that cigarettes, still legal for adults, kill far more people than marijuana.

“That was 49 years ago,” McKeown said, “and we’re still hemming and hawing on this. I think it’s time for us, for the city of Santa Monica, to stop kicking the can down the road. I hope this city is finally going to take a step to sanity.”

The motion ordered drafting of a law to create a regulatory permit, requirements for a conditional-use permit and a selection process for medical cannabis dispensaries.

A proposed outright ban of commercial sales was scrapped at the last moment. Instead, the council ordered an analysis of the pros and cons of personal-use marijuana shops, a path opened to local governments by Prop. 64.

In 2009, the Council declined to act on a request by a group of senior citizens who wanted such a dispensary and subsequently ordered a moratorium. Talk continued, though, as dispensaries for medicinal cannabis opened across California ("Council May Consider Pot Dispensaries," November 5, 2009).

In 2015, the City’s updated zoning made space for dispensaries in particularly zoned areas. They are Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.

The outlets cannot be larger than 2,500 square feet and are prohibited within 600 feet of a childcare and early education or family day care facility, park, school, library, social service center or other medical Cannabis dispensary.

Passed by voters last November, Prop. 64 created a potentially generous tax revenue stream for California governments. But it also created a set of new concerns.

Under the new law, residents can grow for personal use as many as six pot plants at home, indoors or in enclosed structures, but local governments can ban outdoor cultivation and “reasonably regulate” indoor cultivation for recreational use due to public safety and public health considerations.

Cities can also decide whether they will permit any businesses selling cannabis for recreational use in their borders.

Council members also were worried about how Sacramento will handle Prop.64. State lawmakers are scrambling to figure out the potential ramifications.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has not sent supportive signals to California and the seven other states that have legalized adult recreational use of pot. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, a category -- the highest of all -- that includes drugs such as heroine.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on the record as not being a “fan” of legalized marijuana, the use of which he said last year is a “very real danger.”

The council’s vote followed a study session and appearances by speakers who warned of the dangers of drugs. On the other side, those interested in opening shop in Santa Monica also made their cases.

One couple hoped to start offering a marijuana-infused cream in Santa Monica that they said has helped ease the crippling pain cancer patients endure, as well people suffering pain due to AIDs, multiple sclerosis and other diseases and conditions.

“We are not stoners,” said one speaker, whose background included a marketing career with major fashion designers and others before she switched to providing marijuana for medicinal purposes. “We are professionals and dedicated.”

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