Medical Marijuana Regulation In Santa Monica?

Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014, 9:08:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

A vote will be held at Santa Monica City Hall tonight on whether the City Council should back a proposed State Senate bill that could open the door for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries within the coastal municipality.

As part of the council’s April 22 consent calendar, Santa Monica’s elected officials will be deciding whether to back Senate Bill 1262 (SB1262).

Authored by State Senator Lou Correa, the bill proposes, according to City staff, to “provide a clear road map for the responsible implementation of … the Compassionate Use Act (CUA).”

City staff added the CUA is part of Proposition 215, which decriminalized marijuana use for medical purposes in 1996.

If enacted, SB 1262 would allow for local control of medical marijuana regulation.

Correa’s proposed law does not dictate the policy direction any city could take on medical marijuana. Accordingly, it is up to a city council to determine whether it should ban, permit with regulation, or place a moratorium upon medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The proposal is not a path towards legalization of marijuana,” City staff stated.

Instead, SB 1262, if enacted, would “unconditionally uphold local control.”

The law would also give cities the ability to impose tighter regulations upon doctors who issue medical marijuana recommendations and ensure strict preventative steps are taken to “prevent diversion and recreational use at all medical cannabis facilities.”

Finally, City staff stated SB 1262 also proposes to give cities the ability to “impose uniform health and safety standards as well as quality assurance standards” that would be administered at the county level; the State would also provide oversight of the imposed standards.

City staff is encouraging the council to support SB 1262 “as a positive step forward in seeking to responsibly regulate medical marijuana because of the bill’s focus on local control, public safety, and public health.”

Both the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Assoc. support SB 1262. According to City staff, both groups support the proposed law as a means “to create a Statewide regulatory structure for medical marijuana that is focused on public safety and a health-based approach.”

Should the council vote on supporting SB 1262, City staff will send notice to Santa Monica’s lobbyists and elected officials in Sacramento expressing the support.

Voters approved Proposition 215 in the November 1996 election.

“The intent of Proposition 215 was to enable people in need of medical marijuana for specified medical purposes, to obtain and use it under limited specified circumstances,” City staff stated.

Proposition 215 was enhanced in 2003 with the passage of the Medical Marijuana Program Act, or MMPA. The new law created a State-approved medical marijuana identification card program. As part of the program, certain immunities from the State’s marijuana laws were granted to those who had State-approved identification cards.

Despite the existence of Proposition 215 and the MMPA, certain loopholes still existed, with City staff stating both laws fell short of “establishing the broader regulatory framework” necessary to fully implement the voter-approved initiative.

“Both pieces of legislation leave numerous questions unanswered as to how these provision should be implemented, particularly in regard to the distribution of medical marijuana through … dispensary facilities,” City staff stated.

It was the hope of Correa and others supporting the bill that SB 1262 would address the “numerous questions unanswered.”

Locally, the Santa Monica City Council in August 2013 extended for year a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. As part of the moratorium extension, the council directed City staff to look into developing “responsible standards” within the Zoning Ordinance to regulate such dispensaries.

At a Planning Commission meeting in February, City staff discussed new information with commissioners and recommended the Draft Zoning Ordinance not authorize medical marijuana dispensaries. However, the commissioners decided to indeed recommend dispensaries be authorized by the Draft Zoning Ordinance.

While council members will be specifically voting on whether to support Correa’s bill, an actual policy discussion of whether medical marijuana dispensaries should exist within Santa Monica is expected to take place in the fall.

Since the question of whether to support SB 1262 is a consent calendar item, it could be possible there is no discussion on the dais on this topic. Just the same, the agenda item will be considered early on in the meeting, so those who want to comment on whether or the council should support the bill should arrive at City Hall no later than 6:30 pm.

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