LONG BEACH: City Council to meet in closed session to discuss legalities.
By Paul Eakins, Posted on the PressTelegram.com
LONG BEACH – The city’s medical marijuana collectives can breathe free for another week until the City Council decides whether to create new restrictions for the drug.
Concerned about potential lawsuits if the city changes the law months after it had been enacted and after collectives have invested money to meet its requirements, the council voted 6-3 to postpone its decision.
The council plans a closed session next Tuesday to discuss the possible legal ramifications of changing the law with city attorneys.
The three votes against delaying a decision came from the three council members who had proposed altering the law – Gary DeLong, Gerrie Schipske and Patrick O’Donnell.
The council members’ proposal, which they said was sparked by constituents’ safety concerns about the collectives, came months after the initial regulations were put in place and just as collectives were in the process of complying with the law.
“We have learned that we should have been more restrictive, and we’re trying to put in some additional restrictions to protect both the community as well as the patients that are trying to utilize the substance,” DeLong said.
A crowd of medical marijuana advocates showed up to criticize the proposal, and a few council members were critical of the timing as well. On the other hand, several residents told the council that they support making the ordinance more restrictive because of safety concerns.
“We are not really respecting the due process and behaving responsibly as policy makers,” 9th District Councilman Steve Neal said.
“We should exercise good faith and allow the process of the existing ordinance to work or fail on its own merit and then address it a little further down the line, but at least give it an opportunity to see if it works.”
The current ordinance prohibits collectives from operating in residential areas, near schools or within 1,000 feet of each other. The law also requires that all medical marijuana in Long Beach be grown within the city limits, either at a collective or cultivation site.
The proposed changes to the law would create prohibition zones around libraries, parks and child-care centers as well. The changes would also include other restrictions, such as limiting cultivation to industrial zones and limiting the number of collectives to 18 citywide and two per district.
Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich said that the council had considered most of the proposed changes already over a year, adding that DeLong, Schipske and O’Donnell are now trying to alter it “at the midnight hour.”
“Most everything here was on the table for discussion, and I would hesitate to change it now,” Gabelich said.
Seventh District Councilman James Johnson made the motion to postpone the vote to make sure that the city isn’t legally vulnerable.
Collectives paid $14,700 in permit fees, which city officials said would be refunded to collectives that are forced to close, but also have signed leases and invested thousands of dollars to meet requirements in many cases, collective operators said.
Sierra Serhan, who operates Belmont Shore Natural Care Collective in Naples, argued that the changes aren’t necessary. She pointed out that all smoking – cigarettes, marijuana or otherwise – is already illegal in parks, that libraries are used by people of all ages and in some cases are near bars, and that children don’t go to daycare centers alone.
“I request that you do not change the ordinance until you realize what the current ordinance has done,” Serhan said.
Several Long Beach residents also spoke in support of the proposed changes to the law.
“The public safety concerns around dispensaries are real,” said Jenna Morse, who described herself as a mom in the 3 rd District. “The crime threat is real and it is the duty of the council to protect the greater good.”
Attorney Rick Brizendine, who has represented several Long Beach collectives, said that in addition to risking litigation, the city would be breaking its word if it changed the ordinance.
“You made a promise,” Brizendine said. “You promised the collective applicants that they would have a chance to operate and that you would revise the ordinance if necessary.”