City Council hears proposal for medical marijuana dispensary
February 21, 2007
Christina Hanford, The Argonaut
Nathan Hamilton, 23, and his business partner and friend, Logan Aries, 20, are trying to open what would be the first nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Santa Monica, at the corner of Main and Pacific Streets.
He told City Council members that he and Aries have all the necessary permits except a Santa Monica business license.
"Everything's already set up — I just need my business license," said Hamilton, who, with his partner, has already invested $14,000 on the project. "All of my other permits have been fulfilled except for my business license in Santa Monica."
The City Council agenda item drew several speakers and a discussion amongst City Council members.
"I firmly believe that this is not the right time to allow marijuana clinics into our city," said Jenna Linnekens, who ran for the Santa Monica City Council in November. "And we are ill-prepared for the consequences of such an action."
Linnekens said that, although the residents of California passed legislation approving the distribution and use of medical marijuana, the state has failed to implement any regulations system to insure that the clinics do not abuse the system by exceeding the bounds of the law, for example, selling to minors or others who are not entitled by prescription to receive the drug.
"We need to wait until there are proper regulating bodies and oversight before we bring this to Santa Monica," Linnekens said.
In the November election, 65.28 percent of those who voted in Santa Monica voted to adopt Measure Y, the "Lowest Police Priority for Marijuana Ordinance," which requires the Santa Monica Police Department to use the "lowest law enforcement priority" for offenses involving private, adult (21 years and older) marijuana use.
The ordinance has also de-prioritized law enforcement of marijuana offenses in investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures and prosecutions in Santa Monica.
The ordinance does not apply to the use of marijuana on public property or driving under the influence of marijuana.
Former City Councilman and mayor Michael Feinstein said he hoped that, with such a clear public mandate as the Measure Y vote, "you'd give direction to staff not simply to look into the issue, but [find] a way to actually implement the public's will."
Chris Fusco, local field coordinator for Americans For Safe Access, spoke and provided a report to the council documenting city managers, city staff and elected officials who had gone on the record saying that dispensaries were "positive forces" in their cities.
"Also, as far as the impact on the sick patients, there is no safer place for them to get their medicine than a well-regulated dispensing collective that is secure, safe, and that operates with cooperation of the city," Fusco said.
After public comment, council members discussed the item.
"Why was the business license not available in this case in terms of zoning?" Councilman Kevin McKeown asked.
McKeown said he'd gone to look at the neighborhood on Main Street, although he didn't know where the exact location was proposed until he received the address at the council meeting.
"But less than a block away, at 2305 Main St., has been for years a business called Herb King that dispenses Chinese medicinal herbs," McKeown said. "And I'm not sure that that wouldn't be more similar to this business than a medical office, where a doctor is in residence."
Councilman Ken Genser said he assumed, in terms of zoning issues, that the dispensary would be permitted.
"I think the voters [of Santa Monica] — even though I didn't personally support it — but the voters were clear on their issues regarding marijuana in the last election," Genser said. "And I think we should implement some possibility of that, or at least seriously consider implementing the will of the voters here. But I think we have to make sure, if we're going to do that, we do so in a very responsible way."
But Councilman Bob Holbrook said, "I just don't want to permit this activity at all."
Mayor Richard Bloom said he didn't know where he was "going to be on this one when we vote on it."
In the end, the City Council voted four to one to direct staff to return with information on how the dispensary would be regulated and where and how it might be permitted.
The council also directed staff to look at law enforcement concerns and model ordinances that other communities have used.
Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz was not present at the meeting, and Councilwoman Pam O'Connor left the meeting at 11 p.m., so she was not present to vote on the item.
Hamilton and Aries are already renting a 1,100-square-foot space for about $4,000 a month on the corner of Main and Pacific Streets in what is called the "green light district," which Hamilton says is a "prime location." The location is over 1,000 feet from public parks, schools and libraries, said Hamilton.
The two, who already have a nonprofit called So Cal Co-Op, say they picked Santa Monica as the location they wanted to open a dispensary "for many reasons." They checked out about 11 other cities.
"It's a perfect area," Hamilton said. "I know personally there are a lot of medical marijuana patients in Santa Monica. And the majority of people who live out here are really open-minded."
Hamilton also thinks there's a "big need" for a dispensary in the city, and he doesn't think someone should have to travel further than their home city to get their medication.
"I'm trying to help the community," he said. "Whatever the City Council and police department set forth for me to abide by, I intend to abide by 100 percent."
Hamilton says he became very passionate about medical marijuana when a close relative who is disabled had a choice to either have a morphine pump inserted into her stomach or start using medical marijuana. She chose medical marijuana.
"She couldn't even function normally," he said. "She was on over 60 pills a day. Now that she's on medical marijuana, she doesn't have to take more than eight. It's helped her so much and that made me all the more passionate about it.
"The number of ailments that this medicine can help pretty much puts any medicine to shame. I'm telling you, there are so many different things it helps."