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Santa Monica City Council Approves Law Allowing Medicinal “Pot Shops”
By Niki Cervantes
October 12, 2017 – Decades after California began allowing medicinal “pot shops,” the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday approved a law allowing no more two permits for two such retailers within city borders.
By moving so slowly, the council said it had learned well how to avoid the disruptions caused in other communities as they licensed retail sellers of medical cannabis sales.
But the vote also came as the state of California is about to open the door to allowing licenses for sales of recreational marijuana -– a new set of regulations from Sacramento for which the City is unprepared to address.
“I know people are chomping at the bit to open (recreational adult) marijuana outlets, said Council Member Kevin McKeown, as the council decided to postpone action on whether to license retailers for sale of non-medicinal use next.
“But we’re just now ready yet,” he said. “We don’t have knowledge enough yet of what the regulations will be.”
The council also voted to explore floating a ballot measure like one passed by voters in the City of Santa Barbara last November to impose a 20-percent tax on medicinal and recreational marijuana businesses.
Santa Barbara City officials said the tax revenue from pot shops was needed because of insufficient funds to cover costs for capital, operating and other impacts on the municipal budget.
They said more money was needed to ensure compliance by pot shops with relevant laws and protect public health and safety in the event, as occurred in the same election, recreational pot was legalized.
Santa Monica council members said customers at the City’s legal medicinal pot shops should not be taxed for their product, saying it would be the equivalent of punishing patients truly in need of medical benefits of marijuana.
The City will also need to set up a board to review applications for the two permits that will be allowed for medicinal marijuana outlets and possible on-site cultivation. Members will include representatives from various city departments impacted by new stores, community members and others.
The four motions needed for Tuesday’s action were passed by six-to-zero votes. Council Member Pam O’Connor was not present.
California voters approved the sale of recreational marijuana in the November 2016 election. But Sacramento has required time to set up regulations for such operations.
The state has allowed medicinal pot shops for 21 years. But local governments have the power to create specific ordinances if such shops -- for either medicinal or recreational -- are allowed within their borders.
Under Santa Monica’s medical cannabis law, retailers are restricted to the two-mile confines of Wilshire Boulevard, from Lincoln to the city limits, and along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th Street or between 23rd and Centinela Avenue.
The ordinance establishes application and permitting processes for both retail outlets and “light manufacturing” of cannabis products in the city, including lotions or edibles.
Although public comment was not nearly as extensive as it had been in the years during the law’s creation, some speakers on Tuesday who are involved with what is becoming a booming business in California, said Santa Monica is too restrictive.
Based on the city’s 94,000 population, as many as seven medicinal outlets should be allowed, one speaker said.
Another speaker involved in the business, Christopher Hope, told the council the cannabis law is so restrictive, and the need for medical marijuana so great, it will lead to a flood of illegal pot shops.
“The black market is going to explode,” he said.
Rental space is so expensive in Santa Monica that only big and deep-pocketed operators will be able to open up shop, some complained, edging out local entrepreneurs.
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