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Santa Monica Police Chief Backs State Law for Stricter Controls over Medical Marijuana

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

This article has been updated.

April 21, 2014 -- Controversial plans to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Monica could hit another stumbling block Tuesday when Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks lobbies the City Council to back pending State legislation for stricter controls over the drug.

Seabrooks, a vocal opponent of preliminary plans in the City’s pending Zoning Ordinance update to allow space for as many as two medical marijuana facilities in the bayside city, will call on the Council to back State Senate Bill 1262.

The bill, introduced by State Senator Lou Correa, would put the State in charge of issuing licenses to dispensaries and cultivation sites, establish Statewide standards for physicians prescribing medical marijuana and mandate State audits of physicians prescribing the drug more than 100 times a year.

In a report to the City Council bearing Seabrooks’ name, staff urged the Council to support the bill which “provides regulation of medical cannabis in a manner that protects local control, addresses important public safety concerns, and enhances health and safety standards.”

The report emphasizes that SB 1262 “unconditionally uphold(s) local governments’ ability to ban dispensaries and all related facilities” and “protect(s) local control by preventing an applicant from a State license unless the applicant has first secured all necessary local permits.”

Even so, the debate over whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, which currently cannot operate within city limits, in Santa Monica is a controversial one.

Last August, the City Council voted 4 to 3 in favor of staff including space for a limited number of medical marijuana shops in the city’s updated Zoning Ordinance. (“Santa Monica Will Consider Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries,” August 15, 2013)

Councilmember Bob Holbrook, a pharmacist and vocal opponent of medical marijuana use, said that since Los Angeles allows dispensaries, people who need a medical marijuana prescription don’t have to go far to get it.

However, City planners removed their recommendation to include zoning for two dispensaries near Santa Monica’s hospitals in response to pressure from the Police Department.

Seabrooks spoke at a February Planning Commission where the Zoning Ordinance update was discussed, arguing that the dispensaries would bring crime and more competition for scarce parking.

The Commission, however, voted 5 to 1 to recommend that the Council include space for dispensaries in the final draft of the Zoning Ordinance update.

Supporters of allowing dispensaries in Santa Monica are concerned that Seabrooks’ recommendation appears on the Council’s Tuesday agenda as a consent calendar item. Consent calendar items are meant for routine business because they are approved together in one vote at the beginning of meetings usually without discussion.

“Because the Council has not taken action on the zoning code, and thus has not developed a policy approach on this issue, I believe this is wholly inappropriate  for such an endorsement to even be on the Council agenda," said former Mayor Mike Feinstain.

"SB 1262 goes far beyond simply advocating for 'local control', as the staff report suggests, to pushing certain specific policy directions, which are premature for the Council to take at this point," he said. "At a minimum, this item does not belong on consent calendar, and instead  should be agendized in a manner that more likely invites public input and Council discussion."

Feinsten was concerned that the staff report lacked important information and left out references to other legislation that would address the same issues.

"For example, there is nothing in the staff report about how SB 1262 singles out and treats differently (some might say harass) doctors who prescribe medicine in the form of medical marijuana, compared to those who proscribe pharmaceutical drugs," he said.

"Does the Council really want to support such differential treatment and create a disincentive for safe access to a legal medicine within our city? That's what SB 1262 would do, but the Council isn't informed about that," said Feinstein, adding that such restrictions don't even apply to liquor stores.

"If the Council does endorse SB1262, I can see that endorsement being used in a future staff report to argue for local restrictions the Council hasn't even debated yet," he said. "That would be very bad process, yet a logical outcome of such a premature endorsement. And that doesn't even consider what happens if/when SB 1262 is amended, and/or merged with other bills."

Feinstein said rather than prejudging certain aspects of this issue in isolation, the Council should abstain from acting on any bill until it takes up the issue of how such zoning would apply locally.

"The responsible action now would be to ask staff to monitor the progress of all of the bills passing through the legislature on this issue, and provide an information item  which should then inform the Council discussion on the zoning code later this year," he said.

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