Residents of one California city may be seeing the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Years after banning medical marijuana dispensaries everywhere in town, the Long Beach City Council took the first step in September toward bringing them back. It would make the city a rarity outside Los Angeles, where dispensaries are still allowed under tight new regulations.
The council voted 8-0 on Sept. 11 to direct City Attorney Charles Parkin to draft an ordinance that would let a limited number of dispensaries operate in certain designated neighborhoods.
The decision came on the heels of an effort by residents to repeal the city’s ban on medical marijuana shops. A group raised more than 43,000 signatures in hopes of putting an initiative on the April 2014 ballot, but a federal judge killed their campaign by ruling the city had properly dismissed enough signatures to invalidate their petition.
“Our city needs the same authority as other cities and states to regulate this substance in plain, public view,” said Council Member Suja Lowenthal. “Right now, I think we have an obligation to consider what 30,000 residents believe is a worthwhile ballot issue.”
Dispensaries in Long Beach
Like most communities and counties in California, dispensaries were once common in Long Beach – so common the city developed a lottery in 2009 to try to limit the number operating in the city. But that plan backfired when a collective without a permit sued and a state appellate court judge invalidated the ordinance, saying it conflicted with federal law.
Instead, Long Beach enacted tough new zoning restrictions that drove every dispensary out of town. That policy was upheld by the California Supreme Court earlier this year, when it ruled that municipalities throughout the state can use zoning and other regulations to prohibit pot shops, despite the 1996 marijuana law that allows them.
Trying To Regulate Weed Expansion
For a time it looked as if the city had joined the ever-growing black swath of the Golden State where medicinal cannabis is unobtainable. Only Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and a scattering of smaller communities still allow dispensaries to operate within their limits.
This landscape resulted from years of chaos within the marijuana industry and within local and state government. Cities and counties grew tired of an exploding weed industry that was barely regulated, and the state Supreme Court was confronted with a vague 17-year-old law that failed to impose order upon the turmoil.
But now some communities are beginning to see the downside of the all-or-nothing approach. Long Beach Citizens’ and Patients’ Rights, the group that tried to put the issue on the ballot, was just 18 signatures short of succeeding.
Jina Nam, attorney for the Long Beach Collective Association, another group involved in the ballot push, called the council’s vote a pleasant surprise.
“We’re very appreciative of the city council’s efforts to take leadership in this,” said Nam. “But we want to see them work with us to balance the rights of the city as well as the patients and collective members.”