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Santa Monica May Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Amid all the bad news for medical marijuana dispensaries in and around Los Angeles in recent months, there have been a few bright lights. Now there’s a new, if small, sign of hope.

City officials in Santa Monica are debating rules that would allow two dispensaries to open shop in a town that has none. Though any changes are months away, the city is moving away from its long reputation as a place hostile to pot shops.

In August, the Santa Monica City Council directed planning officials to add dispensary regulations to a draft zoning ordinance the city is considering. At the same time, the council voted to renew a one-year moratorium on marijuana stores.

vote on medical marijuana dispensariesThe vote to send the issue to planning officials, and then on to the city planning commission, was 4-3, suggesting there may be enough support on the city council to bring the dispensaries to town. But it will be close.

“If it’s about marijuana dispensaries, over my dead body,” said Council Member Bob Holbrook.

The planning commission will discuss the draft zoning ordinance at several meetings starting Dec. 11. The ordinance will then go to the council for a final vote, likely sometime next year.

The draft ordinance, released in late November, would allow for two dispensaries, each in a small district around one of two hospitals, the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, and St. John’s Health Center.

Each dispensary would be limited to 2,500 square feet; must be at least 500 feet from a school, park, library or daycare center; and must be at least 1,000 feet from the nearest dispensary.

This has raised concerns among some medical marijuana advocates, who fear the rules could end up being so restrictive it would be impossible to operate a pot shop anywhere.

“They basically just outlined the hospitals,” said Bill Leahy of Santa Monicans for Safe Access. “There’s only a handful of buildings there and there are so many variables. Plus, they might be rented. They might be cost prohibitive.”

Leahy also pointed out that state law requires a 600-foot distance from schools. He said 1,000 feet is safer, given that nearness to schools is more likely to lead to federal intervention. With that in mind, the city would need to expand the hospital districts to include the areas between Yale Street and Wilshire, Santa Monica and Lincoln boulevards.

City Planner Paul Foley disagrees. The city made preliminary measurements when they were drawing the districts, and Foley said neither of the districts was too confining – at least when using the 500-feet standard. But officials have plenty of time to work with advocates, he said.

“This will be fleshed out as we go along,” Foley said. “This is just a draft. As we hear from advocates, if it turns out that there are no locations that they can be located, then we can’t do that. We have to modify it.”

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 marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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