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Santa Monica Moves Closer to Opening Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 30, 2015 -- Long a hold out, the City of Santa Monica moved closer Tuesday to allowing the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries within city borders, although the number is set at only two and they are expected to be required to offer free and discounted products.

The City Council voted unanimously to order staff to come back with recommendations on how to determine the best operators for the shops. That included the possible use of a lottery system, a method used elsewhere with difficulties and not completely welcomed by the Council.

Mayor Kevin McKeown called the use of a lottery “disturbingly random.”

Council Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez asked staff to “think outside the box” for ways of making sure the “pot shops” were good matches for the community, and others seemed to agree.

“Our intent is to give staff creative license,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis.

Voting unanimously on a request by McKeown and Councilmembers Davis and Ted Winterer, the Council directed staff “to explore how best to allocate planned medical marijuana dispensary permits to encourage the greatest community compatibility and benefits.”

The motion also says provisions should be included for “some free or discounted services for low-income patients,” as is done in Berkeley, among other municipalities.

Even as marijuana collectives were popping up across Los Angeles and the state, Santa Monica refused to allow the shops within its borders, arguing that it could bring crime and other problems.

The City’s new zoning ordinance update changed all that, allowing the location of two dispensaries within Santa Monica.

After the zoning overhaul went into effect last week, officials are bracing for increased interest in the dispensaries, especially given the prevalence of such shops in surrounding communities.

Now the City is looking for ways to ensure that only the best operators are allowed and focusing on those shops that can be shown to be most compatible with their neighborhoods.

Vazquez noted at Tuesday’s meetings other cities have already gone where Santa Monica is headed, and that the City should learn from their mistakes.

He suggested that staff contact the City of Santa Ana, which held a lottery to grant 20 applications for dispensaries earlier this year, only to find itself the subject of bitterness and litigation by the losing bidders.

Last month, a judge denied a legal attempt to temporarily freeze the City of Santa Ana’s efforts to approve Orange County’s first legal medical marijuana stores, overriding allegations that the process for choosing the winners was unfair.

“Pick the brains of Santa Ana,” Vazquez said.

Winterer asked staff to “do something expeditiously,” adding that “there is clearly demand in the community.”

A staff report to the council originally suggested that a lottery system be established. The City is also considering requiring conditional use permits for the sites.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, however, questioned whether “that’s the best way to go about it.”  She suggested looking at such issues as experience, scientific expertise and affordability.

Santa Monica’s new zoning code already sets certain restrictions on marijuana dispensaries. They must be located at least 600 feet from childcare centers, parks, schools, libraries, social service centers and other dispensaries.

Each shop can be up to 2,500 square feet, with no more than 15 percent of their floor space used to grow marijuana. In addition, the dispensaries can only operate within set areas along Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards east of Lincoln.

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