How tough is Long Beach's pot law?

November 09, 2010

Paul Eakins, Long Beach Press Telegram

Three City Council members say Long Beach's new medical marijuana law isn't strict enough, but medical marijuana advocates consider parts of the city's ordinance to be among the most prohibitive in California. "The requirement that cultivation be done in the city limits is one of the most restrictive provisions out there," Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, said Wednesday. "There's no other ordinance that I'm aware of out there that restricts cultivation to within the city limits."

Long Beach's law says that marijuana cultivation must take place at the collectives or at a separate grow site. The ordinance also outlines many other requirements, such as prohibiting collectives in residential areas, near schools or within 1,000 feet of one another.

Council members Gary DeLong, Patrick O'Donnell and Gerrie Schipske now want to revamp the law to prohibit collectives from being within 1,000 feet of parks, libraries and child-care centers; to restrict cultivation only to industrial zones; and to limit the total number of collectives allowed citywide to 18, or two per council district.

When the council considered the proposal Tuesday, DeLong explained his reasoning:

"The council thought we were erring on the side of being overly restrictive. That's what we thought we were doing," DeLong said of the council's vote in March creating the marijuana law. "We found out that actually we didn't err on the side of being overly restrictive, but in fact we were one of the least restrictive cities that were going this direction."

The council didn't decide Tuesday whether to support the proposal, instead voting to wait until next Tuesday so that members can discuss in a closed meeting with city attorneys the potential legal ramifications of changing the ordinance midstream.

The proposed changes would force the closure of many of the 32 Long Beach collectives that had met the basic requirements of the law and were selected through a lottery process in September to remain open.

Many of the law's current provisions, and the new ones being proposed, are common in other cities' medical marijuana ordinances.

For example, Los Angeles County restricts collectives from being within 1,000 feet of "schools, playgrounds, parks, libraries, places of religious worship, child-care facilities and youth facilities." Collectives also can't be within 1,000 feet of one another.

Hermes said that the city of Los Angeles has about the most restrictive ordinance in the state. It has 1,000-foot "buffer zones" similar to those of the county, and it limits the total number of collectives to 70 citywide.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted in June to allow medical marijuana dispensaries at 16 unincorporated county sites in industrial zones, but they must be at least 1,000 feet from homes, churches, schools, parks and other dispensaries, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

As Hermes stated, it appears to be unusual for local agencies to require cultivation within the city or county limits, as Long Beach does. In fact, Los Angeles County's law prohibits marijuana from being grown at the collectives themselves.

These comparisons are only among cities and counties that have actually created laws to regulate and allow medical marijuana, which California voters legalized in 1996.

Americans for Safe Access lists 36 cities and nine counties that have medical marijuana laws on its website (www.safeaccessnow.org), while it identifies 139 cities and nine counties that have banned the drug outright. The site identifies another 103 cities and 15 counties that have initiated temporary moratoriums on collectives until they can determine how to control and regulate the facilities.

Just as a few Long Beach council members and many medical marijuana advocates said Tuesday, Hermes emphasized that he would like the city to worry less about other agencies' laws and focus instead on the effectiveness of its own ordinance.

"I think that Long Beach City Council members should ask themselves, are there problems that have resulted from the implementation of their ordinance, is there a need to be more restrictive," Hermes said. "It's not about keeping up with the Joneses." 

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