Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Divided council's pot law draws patients' ire

LONG BEACH - Just when Long Beach's medical marijuana ordinance seemed a
done deal, the City Council took another crack at it Tuesday night.

After months of lengthy meetings to try to come up with a way to
regulate medical marijuana collectives, the council still had to do some
serious negotiating and needed seven separate votes to finally approve
the law 5-4.

The ordinance wasn't to the liking of medical marijuana advocates and
collective operators, who after the vote called the law a virtual "ban"
on marijuana.

Chief among their objections was that a requirement that all medical
marijuana provided by local collectives be grown within the city limits
would be too onerous and would make it difficult for patients to receive
the marijuana they need.

Another controversial issue was the council's decision last week to
expand school buffer zones for elementary and middle schools from 500
feet to 1,000 feet, as well as keep the 1,500-foot buffer zone around
high schools.

Marijuana advocates said that adding on top of those rules a restriction
limiting patients to being members of only one dispensary will leave
patients with few marijuana options in Long Beach.

"If one collective doesn't have the medicine you need, you need to be
able to go to another one," Madeleine Johnson of Americans for Safe
Access said after the meeting.

The law also requires marijuana collectives to register with the city,
provide the names and contact information of its managing members, and
to take on-site security measures, among other rules.

The council began working on a way to control the proliferation of
collectives in a September committee meeting, and has had meeting after
meeting since then to work out the complex legalities of the issue.

On Feb. 9, the council approved the creation of a less restrictive
version of the law that didn't limit where marijuana may be grown and
restricted collectives from operating only within 500 feet of elementary
and middle schools.

Then, after law enforcement officials and a representative of the
District Attorney's Office gave a presentation to the council later that
month, telling them that Long Beach should restrict cultivation to
within the city limits in order to comply with state law and have an
enforceable ordinance, the council delayed having another vote.

Last week, the council voted 5-4 to pass the law with the additional
in-town cultivation rule.

The ordinance was agendized for a final reading Tuesday, but Mayor Bob
Foster announced that the vote would be a first reading only, likely
because there were enough substantial changes made to the law last week.
That means the ordinance must still go back to the council for a final

On Tuesday, council members weren't satisfied with this outcome, and
they took a long and convoluted road to reach an agreement. Try to
follow along.

Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal made a motion to approve the ordinance.

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich then made a motion to approve the law but to
add a 2,000-square-foot size limit on marijuana cultivation and
collective sites in commercial pedestrian corridors and to allow
patients to join up to three collectives.

Councilman Gary DeLong made another substitute motion to approve the
original ordinance but give collectives an extra six months (in addition
to the 120-day grace period they were already to have once the law is
signed by the mayor) in which to comply so that they would have time to
grow enough marijuana for their patients' needs.

Each motion failed on either a 4-5 or 3-6 vote, but the votes didn't all
fall along the same divisions on the council. Almost every council
member cast a "no" vote on at least one motion.

Councilman Patrick O'Donnell next tried to find some common ground,
making a new motion that integrated the original ordinance with the
2,000-square-foot building rule and giving collectives an extra four
months to comply. Gabelich asked O'Donnell to add an allowance of two
collective memberships for patients, but O'Donnell drew the line there.

It didn't matter, however, because the vote failed as well with a 4-5

Lowenthal then tried her hand at bridging a compromise after she had
voted against the previous motion. She moved to reconsider the vote,
which the council decided voted 5-4 to allow.

Lowenthal made the previous motion again, but asked to remove the
2,000-square-foot restriction, leaving only the original ordinance and
the extra four months for collectives to comply.

It wasn't done yet, though, because Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga made
a substitute motion to continue the matter to the next meeting. Her
proposal failed 4-5, and Lowenthal's motion was finally approved 5-4.

Voting against the ordinance were Uranga, Gabelich and council members
Val Lerch and Robert Garcia.

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