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Long Beach Working Out Kinks in MMJ Ordinance

pot shop dispensaryEfforts to welcome medical marijuana dispensaries back to Long Beach hit a snag in December.

Earlier this fall, the city council asked staff to draft an ordinance regulating a small number of pot shops within city limits. But that attempt stalled, at least briefly, when officials realized the council’s instructions would shut dispensaries out of most of Long Beach.

Council members asked staff to draft an ordinance that would allow dispensaries only in industrial zones, with no more than two shops per district. That would end the city’s current policy of no dispensaries anywhere in Long Beach. But City Attorney Charles Parkin said the instructions were too limiting.

Dispensary Location Restriction Problems

“When we looked at a map and had a chance to review this, the distribution of industrial land in the city is not equal,” Parkin said.

There are also part of the city, like Central Long Beach, where there are no industrial zones. And the various buffers that are required between dispensaries and schools, parks and other protected sites make the problem worse – as does a proposed 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries.

That would leave only two city council districts in which two medical pot shops could legally locate, according to a staff report: the district represented by Vice Mayor Robert Garcia and the district represented by Council Member Steve Neal.

Parking said he’ll ask for further direction at the next council meeting. Once staff refines the draft ordinance based on those instructions, it will go to the city’s planning commission before returning to the council for a final vote.

“Once we get this additional information, we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to quickly take that direction and revise our maps and ordinance,” Parking said.

medical-marijuana (2)Previous Ban Attempts

Long Beach was once home to a large number of pot dispensaries – so large that at one point the city used a lottery to try to limit the number. That plan backfired, though, when a collective without a permit sued to invalidate the ordinance and a state appellate court judge agreed, saying it conflicted with federal law.

That led city council members to clamp down instead. They enacted a total ban on dispensaries everywhere in town, a policy upheld by the California Supreme Court early in 2013.

That put Long Beach in the same camp as hundreds of other cities, towns and counties across the state that have banned pot shops by way of zoning regulations. But the hostility to medical weed didn’t last long.

Like some other cities in California, Long Beach eventually began to reconsider its no-cannabis stance. The spark came from a citizens’ group that tried to kill the ban with a public vote. They failed, but only barely, and city leaders took their threat seriously – which is why the council is now trying to hammer out a new policy that would allow medical pot shops to serve their patients in peace.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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