Pubdate: Thu, 11 Oct 2012
Source: Argonaut, The (ID Edu)
Copyright: 2012 University of Idaho Argonaut
Author: Vince Echavaria


Hoping to study the potential effects of medical marijuana
dispensaries and the best way to regulate their operations, the Santa
Monica City Council has approved a 45-day moratorium on issuing
licenses for the businesses.

The City Council voted unanimously Oct. 2 to pass the moratorium after
the city has received four over-the-counter inquiries and 11 telephone
inquiries over the last three months to establish medical pot
dispensaries in Santa Monica. Staff had recommended the 45-day freeze
on licenses because the city's zoning ordinance does not contain
regulations governing the establishment, location and operation of
such businesses. Additionally, the law on enforcing the regulation of
pot collectives currently has uncertainties, staff noted.

The ordinance exempts licensed healthcare facilities and residences
where patients have obtained medical marijuana identification cards to
cultivate the drug for personal use. The moratorium will initially
last for 45 days but the ordinance can be extended by up to 22 months.

The council's vote came on the same day that the Los Angeles City
Council voted to repeal its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries
after opponents gathered enough signatures to qualify a referendum on
the ballot. The initial ordinance that was approved would have allowed
patients and their primary caregivers to grow the plant for medicinal

Santa Monica city staff noted that while state law allows qualified
patients to use the medicinal drug, federal law continues to prohibit
it, which has led to significant impacts for cities that have
authorized the dispensary operations.

Referring to the difficulties Los Angeles has faced in regulating the
collectives, Councilman Kevin McKeown said that city has made "the
worst possible mess" of the issue by being so indecisive.

"I hope that if we pass this moratorium it will be with the intent to
really investigate the issues and be decisive," McKeown said.

The moratorium on licenses and permits for the dispensaries will allow
the city to address community concerns and analyze potential impacts
they may have on public health and safety. The city will also be able
to review its legal authority to enact land use controls to regulate
the operations and to study which regulations could best be used, staff 

Some medical marijuana advocates were opposed to any actions that
could impact access to the drug.

"On the day that Los Angeles just repealed its ban (on dispensaries)
don't we all feel a little silly and out of touch with Santa Monica
here?" said Richard McDonald, president of Golden State Collective,
noting that Santa Monica has a higher percentage of medical pot
supporters than Los Angeles. "This ordinance is unprecedented in its

Karen O'Keefe, the director of state policy at the Marijuana Policy
Project, said she believes the collectives have a benefit for patients
that rely on the drug. A 2005 report found that Santa Monica's support
for medical marijuana access was "through the roof," with 91 percent
of residents supportive and 75 percent strongly supportive, she told
the council.

"Santa Monica's medical marijuana patients should be able to have
local, safe access to their medicine," she said.

But others were not convinced of the benefits of medical pot use.
Pediatrician Trisha Roth told the council that some research found
that the most common way for youth to get into marijuana use was
through "medical marijuana diversion."

Resident Jenna Linnekens said Santa Monica can be a leader by keeping
the dispensaries out of its borders, and added that patients have
options in surrounding cities.

"I don't believe this supports the values of this community," she

McKeown disagreed that patients should have to go to an outside city
to access the medicine and said he hopes the city will look at the
issue and come up with a solution.

"I disagree that it's okay for us in Santa Monica, a population that
includes those who use medical marijuana for real pain and real issues
in their lives, to tell them 'we know you're sick and may be disabled
but it's okay for you to drive to West L.A.," McKeown said.

"I don't think it's right for us in 2012 to keep our heads in the
sand. I don't want to kick this down the road; I want to do this right."

In supporting the moratorium, McKeown asked that officials take a
serious look at ways to provide functional medical marijuana
dispensaries in the city.
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