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 purposes.
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 said.
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“On the day that Los Angeles just repealed its ban (on dispensaries) don’t we all feel a little silly and out of touch with Santa Monica here?”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 unreasonableness.”
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 said.
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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