By Paul Eakins
Staff Writer for The Press Telegram
originally posted in The Press-Telegram: 09/20/2010 07:32:22 PM PDT |Updated: 09/20/2010 07:57:55 PM PDT
LONG BEACH – The dreams of 11 medical marijuana collectives went up in smoke Monday afternoon.
The collectives will be forced to close after they lost a lottery held Monday in the City Council chamber at City Hall. The lottery is part of the permitting process established under Long Beach’s new medical marijuana law and determined which collectives can move forward to the next stage in the process.
Thirty-two out of 43 collectives that had submitted permit applications will do just that, although for some, the lottery was just a formality.
Under the new ordinance, collectives aren’t allowed to be within 1,000 feet of each other. While 25 collectives didn’t have that problem, the other 18 did, 11 of which were eliminated.
Among the lottery winners, five collectives also each have a separate cultivation site, which is allowed by the ordinance, bringing the total number of marijuana sites to 37. Those that passed the lottery still must go through a process of building inspections, public notice and hearings before they receive their permits.
No more collectives will be allowed to open in Long Beach until the city starts a new permit application period, which has yet to be determined.
Taso Nikolaou, who operates Cannabis Evaluation Center at 5595 E. Seventh St., breathed a sigh of relief outside the council chamber after his lottery number was called out before that of his competitor.
“I asked God for help. I went to church this morning, lit a candle,” Nikolaou said. “I’m ecstatic right now.”
Although many collective operators have spoken out against some of the requirements and the process of the medical marijuana ordinance, Nikolaou said he was just happy to see Long Beach accept the need for collectives.
“I think they’re finally getting to a point where they can regulate the industry and provide safe access” to medical marijuana, he said.
One aspect of the ordinance that has met strong opposition was a $14,742 non-refundable permit application fee.
Unlike Nikolaou’s collective, Jim Stienecker’s Wardlow Collective west of Long Beach Airport lost the lottery, leaving him empty-handed – no permit and almost $15,000 gone.
“It’s not really fair to go into something when you don’t know the odds,” said a visibly upset Stienecker.
He said he had invested “multiple tens of thousands of dollars” into his collective, though he conceded that he had just opened the collective seven or eight weeks ago and knew there were risks.
Still, Stienecker said, he is most concerned about his 350 patient members, to whom he provides medical marijuana “so that they don’t have to go to a street dealer and feel like a criminal.”
Despite the high emotion, Monday’s lottery was eerily silent as the crowd of about 130 waited in anticipation.
The drawing was a far cry from the dozens of council meetings over the past year that have been packed with vocal and passionate medical marijuana advocates who queued up to give the council a piece of their minds.
The council approved the medical marijuana law in March to control the growing number of collectives and created the permit process in May. The ordinance prohibits collectives from residential areas, creates buffer zones around schools and sets many other requirements.
Much like those council meetings, Monday’s lottery didn’t turn out to be a simple process.
The lottery balls, each printed with an identification number corresponding to the collectives, didn’t fit through the tube of the air-mixed lottery machine. So, City Clerk Larry Herrera ended up drawing the balls out of a blue recycling bin, shaking it each time before the drawing.
Muffled cheers and curses could be heard as the winners in the contested areas were announced, which pretty much made clear who the losers were. Overall, the crowd stayed calm, perhaps due in part to a high police presence and the requirement that anyone entering the chamber be scanned with a metal detector.
Erik Sund, the city’s business relations manager who is in charge of the medical marijuana permit process, said he had asked for extra police officers at the lottery, “keeping in mind that there were going to be people that won and people that lost, and some people can be sore losers.”