It's time for L.B. to come to terms with pot dispensaries.

October 04, 2007

EDITORIAL, Long Beach Press-Telegram

The Long Beach City Council issued a six-month moratorium on business licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in 2005. The pot dealers went ahead and opened or continued to operate 11 known dispensaries not far from homes, business and - in a couple cases, schools - in Belmont Shore, Belmont Heights, Naples and other neighborhoods where getting a liquor license can be tougher than uncorking a wine bottle with your incisors. As P-T staff writer Tracy Manzer's in-depth report on the issue explained on Sunday, only four of these businesses have licenses for a use other than selling pot and the rest are unlicensed. You would think the same council - albeit it one with a somewhat different makeup - would direct police and the city attorney to shut down the businesses for doing what a baker or barber could never do: operate without a business permit or use a business license for an unstated or unpermitted purpose. But the council so far has decided to look the other way. Before you ask, 'What are they smoking at City Hall?' know that the politicians are in a very difficult situation, one without an obvious solution. This is because officials here and up and down the state do not know how to reconcile Proposition 215, which makes medical pot legal in California, with federal law that makes the drug illegal. Anaheim is in court now defending its ban - it won the first round - on medical marijuana sales. Long Beach is watching that case closely, although the appeals could take years. One of Long Beach's legal options would be to defy federal law and issue permits to the dealers that are found to be appropriate fits for their neighborhoods. Or it could shut down dispensaries and - if operators sue - take its chances in court. Aside from the law, there is the emotional side to the issue: Most Californians, and presumably many Long Beach residents, support selling weed to cancer patients, people living with AIDS, those trying to overcome eating disorders and other illnesses defined as treatable with marijuana under Proposition 215. The law, as voters intended, is one of 'compassion,' and Long Beach is generally a compassionate place. But there are local issues that have nothing to do with the philosophical discussion of prescribing pot. Businesses have been allowed to open without licenses - or input from residents or zoning officers - and seven of the 11 did not submit to fire or health and safe inspections, according to one law enforcement official who asked for anonymity in a talk with an editor. No matter where you stand on medical pot - we support it - allowing businesses to operate without paying fees and submitting to municipal oversight is improper. Of course these businesses cannot do the proper thing and apply for a license because they won't get one. That essentially means selling medical marijuana is illegal in Long Beach. Or is it? It's time for the council to at least try and see through the smoke.

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