By Emilio Aldea
Many citizens spoke on the divide between those who advocate for medical marijuana use and those who do not before the Long Beach City Council voted 6-3 on Sep. 22 in favor of re-instituting medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the city of Long Beach.
But dispensaries are technically not allowed to open until the final regulations are passed by the city council, which they haven’t done yet.
The measure, proposed by Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, called for a maximum of nine medical marijuana dispensaries to be set up in non-residential areas throughout the city.
In addition, the state passed three bills last week, which creates a set of procedures for cities across the state to follow, but also empowers cities to levy bans against dispensaries.
The bills were signed into law Friday morning by Gov. Jerry Brown after spending nearly a month on his desk.
The new laws create a framework for the city of Long Beach to end its three-year de-facto ban on the drug.
“Every dollar that is spent inside the legal medical marijuana industry guarantees that it is not going into the hands of the cartels,” said attorney Stefan Borst-Censullo. “Prohibition has only worsened the problems of drug dealing and youth access.”
Borst-Censullo was commissioned by Mayor Robert Garcia while an employee in the city’s legislative department to create a report on medicinal cannabis. He found that while a member of the city’s legal team, he received a lot of complaints about “riff-raff” and noted that many of the terms he heard were racially charged. He also urged the city council and citizens of Long Beach to not judge people based upon the way they look or the physical appearance of their medical needs.
The primary concern of many constituents revolved around preventing children from accessing marijuana.
“Regular marijuana use can lead to developmental disabilities, poor school performance, memory and motivational problems, and increased risky behavior,” said Sokhom Phou, a Long Beach resident. “Although some of these youth know these harms, it doesn’t deter them from using it or getting access to it.”
Some of the past ideas that have been proposed have suggested that dispensaries have to be at least 1,500 away from high schools, 1,000 feet away from elementary and licensed private schools, 1,000 feet away from city parks, and 1,000 feet away from schools in other cities that border Long beach, along with allowing only one dispensary per district among the nine total that the city will allow.
Opponents argue that the problem with that legislation is that it could create a glut of weed consumers at these locations. One of the techniques to possibly reduce the spread of dispensaries across the city was suggested by councilmember Al Austin. He suggested that the city create buffer zones around every school and every park in the city, resulting in over 100 buffer locations.
Lowenthal and Austin went on to have a disagreement over the matter, as Lowenthal pointed out that practices creating as many buffer zones as Austin wanted would make it nearly impossible for any dispensary to open and operate in the city legally.
“We don’t take the same approach when it comes to liquor stores,” said Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal. “We know that children can congregate at any place.”
Austin claimed that Lowenthal was looking out for the dispensaries ahead of her constituency, and Lowenthal took “umbrage” with the fact that Austin reduced her advocacy for medical fulfillment of that same constituency to something less than that.
“We don’t even have two grocery stores in some districts,” Austin said. “How do we balance those services?”
While it is apparently legal for institutions like liquor stores, who advertise brightly colored and visually stimulating junk food, cigarettes, and alcohol products to open up almost anywhere in Long Beach, the city has made clear distinctions between marijuana and other legitimate business.
Many other businesses have no such restrictions placed on them, especially places like drug stores that sell cigarettes, alcohol, and sweets that feature packaging that is obviously eye catching and appealing to children. In Long Beach, these drug stores are often located right next to liquor stores, which are also right next to fast food restaurants. Advocates argue that all of these institutions sell things that are significantly more harmful than marijuana in every single measurable way, especially to children.
“We’re close,” Austin said. “There is populist support for medical marijuana; there might even be populist support for recreation use of marijuana. I think that is in our future.”