L.A. City Council Once More Puts Off Medical Marijuana Ordinance Vote

December 17 - At a rollicking meeting where someone signed in as “Santa Claus” for public comment, LA City Council yesterday once more put off their vote on a medical marijuana ordinance, at least until a special meeting they will hold on the topic January 13. (Santa didn’t show, but he was thanked for stopping by.)

Councilmember Reyes lead off the presentation of maps from the planning department, thanking them for their efforts and asking councilmembers to take the maps and statistical analyses back to their offices and study them before making a decision.

Alan Bell of the planning department presented several maps using a 500-ft. buffer zone from “sensitive areas” instead of a 1000-ft. zone, because, he said, that would allow collectives only in industrial areas. Sensitive areas include schools, daycare centers, public libraries, parks, and religious institutions. A pending motion by councilmember Perry would have also made residential areas “sensitive”.

Councilmember Huizar’s amendment, which carried at a previous meeting, would ideally limit the number of collectives to 70, two in each of the 35 community planning areas of the city. According to Bell’s analysis, with the buffer zones in place, six of those areas would have no available sites for collectives (Bel Air, Brentwood, Venice, Tujunga, West Lake) and all but five of the existing 137 pre-ICO collectives would have to move if residential zones were included in the buffer zone.

“This doesn’t meet the test of emerging policy—no even geographic spread—and apparently would not result in reasonable access,” Bell said.

Using the example of Hollywood, Bell presented a series of progessive maps, taking out first schools, then child care centers, etc., showing how the number of available sites decreased with each restriction. When residential sites were excluded, the available locations decreased “dramatically.”

Bell then used 400’, 300’, 200’ and 100’ as the residential buffer zone in his example district of Hollywood, suggesting 200’ as a reasonable compromise. By his statistical analysis, every community planning area would have some possible sites if a 200-foot buffer zone is used for residential sites.

Councilmember Alarcon then got up and objected to Planning’s exclusion of a 1000-foot zone for sensitive areas, and proposed an amendment that would use 1000 feet for sensitive areas and 500 feet for residential. “If not, I’m out,” he said.

Councilmember Hahn asked for maps of agricultural zones in the city, re-opening the question of onsite cultivation. Bell responded that often agricultural zones are on large home sites, and said he would provide maps of ag lands both on home sites and without homes.

Councilmember Garcetti said councilmembers should consider the impact of a bad law they might pass. “We’ve got a pretty bad law now; perhaps voters can regulate” and give marijuana the status of grocery stores or bars. He mentioned the LA Times oped by Timothy Rutten (“Too much ado about marijuana” ) that ran in that morning’s paper, calling it “very good” and agreeing that the political will is at odds with current law.

“What we do is land use,” Garcetti said of the city’s role. Though we have a “lemon of a law,” council must ask to ensure interim access for patients who badly need medical marijuana, he said. “I can’t create these mega dispensaries,” he said to applause from the chamber, “It’s not fair for patients to drive to industrial areas to get their medicine.” To take out rogue operators, he said, we need to take many baby steps.

At this point, the council considered a vote on Alarcon’s amendment, with President Garcetti noting if they did they would have to hear the 24 comments from those who had put in cards. This seemed to deter the council from taking a vote. (Go, activists.) In the end, no public comment was taken at the meeting because no vote was taken.

“I don’t have a problem from marijuana being a danger to society physically or mentally, time will tell if we get there,” Alarcon said. “But it’s not legal yet.” He mentioned again that his Sylmar office is above a medical marijuana outlet, and said although “people tell me my staff is much happier” he’d like the club to “go elsewhere and make other people happy.” On a more serious note, he stressed the need to keep the outlets away from children. He noted that the community plans themselves are 20 years behind the times.

Councilmember Rosendahl said he looked at the maps the previous day with Councilmembers Reyes and Huisar. He also mentioned Rutten’s oped, calling it “A real good piece” and agreeing this is a lot of fuss about nothing. “Five hundred feet from residences is wrong,” he said, and that proposal wouldn’t get his vote. There’s no need to make collectives pariahs when we have liquor stores all over, he said in essence, adding it’s a “medicinal herb” and collectives should be respected as are drug stores, not be driven into “back alleys.”

At this point, councilmember Smith rose to point out that the council had not seen maps from the LAPD about the increase in daytime burglaries at collectives. This caused outbursts from the chamber of “There are none!” and “Sit down and shut up!” until Garcetti sent the uniformed sergeants-at-arms to walk down the aisle threatening to oust onlookers. Smith is harping on “nonconforming use” (whatever that means).

Councilmember Perry then introduced a proposal to vary the residential buffer zone by district, so that councilmembers could pick their preference. She noted that in South LA they had been closing liquor stores but that the revocation process can take five years. “There’s not going to be a lot of enforcement, because we don’t have the personnel,” she said. She noted that the city had worked hard to add housing in her district, and she now wanted those areas protected by a buffer zone. She added that even recycling centers created in her district proved to be a magnet for drug dealers.

Councilmember Zine, a former law enforcement officer, rose to remind councilmembers that this process began four years ago with a motion for a moratorium. He said he thought they’d have an ordinance in 2009, and hoped it wouldn’t be continued until 2011. He aligned himself with Smith, mentioning a shooting at a San Fernando Valley collective. “Clearly there is a crime problem associated with collectives,” he said.

Councilmember LeBonge, a cheery fellow wearing a Christmassy scarf, said he thought the city needed a consistent policy and suggested 100’ from residential areas and 500’ from sensitive ones. Alarcon shot back with a countermotion for 500’ from residential areas, rescinding Perry’s motion to make residential a sensitive use. Zine seconded.

Reyes stood up to say he was as frustrated as anyone else with the process, but urged the council to take time to look at the maps and make an informed decision. Otherwise they could be revisiting the issue in 6 months’ time. In a city of 3 million, it’s diverse and complicated. He noted we’re losing 2-3 district attorneys and that office doesn’t need more caseload. He made a move to continue the matter, which Rosendahl seconded.

Councilmember Huizar stood to endorse 500 feet with either no distance from residential or some unnamed buffer, saying that the cap he endorses will go a long way to ensuring safety. Perry then asked for a clearer definition of “residential” in Alarcon’s proposal – was it “use” or “zone”? “Whatever you would support,” was Alarcon’s answer. “Wherever people live,” was her answer. But Perry and Alarcon lost their team effort to force a vote.

In addition to residential zones, ¼ of commercial parcels in the city and 1/10 of the industrial zones have a residential use, according to Bell. He said his office would make an effort to get their maps online in the next day or two.

-Ellen Komp

Also see:
Bruce Margolin: L.A. should move forward on medical marijuana clinics - not backward
L.A. Daily News
December 13, 2009

LAPD chief: Pot clinics not plagued by crime
L.A. Daily News
January 16, 2010