Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mary Jane Takes A Breather, So To Speak

The Medical Marijuana Study Session conducted by the Costa Mesa City Council Tuesday evening was an interesting exercise in frustration.  For 100 minutes the latest iteration of Councilman Gary Monahan's earlier Medical Marijuana Ordinance - one that had been significantly sliced and diced and enhanced by input from a few council members since it last saw the light of day in a public forum - was analyzed, criticized and practically euthanized by the four members of the council in attendance (Mayor Steve Mensinger was apparently winging his way home from Washington, D.C. with CEO Tom Hatch) and several members of the public.  Fifty or so people were in the chambers during this discussion, many of whom were new faces.

Assistant CEO Rick Francis made a brief introduction of the issue, then handed off to Deputy City Attorney Chris Neumeyer for the presentation.  You can read all 62 pages of the red line copy of the ordinance - with all the changes - HERE.  Neumeyer made it clear that the changes shown were just for discussion purposes - nothing was final yet.  That really didn't seem to make much difference, though.  The council members just kept flogging it.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who had requested this study session, apparently had spent a good deal of time on this issue with Neumeyer because most of the changes to the original Monahan document came from her.  The council spent the first hour going over those changes.  I don't intend to attempt to cover all those modifications - the streaming video may be available shortly for those interested in viewing the proceedings.  Anyone with a serious interest in this subject should do so.

Some of the changes were:
  • Regulation in the form of permits not only of the sale of Medical Marijuana, but the cultivation, management and ownership of the business.
  • Permits for all of those activities would have to be renewed annually.
  • Any employee would be prohibited from working in these activities if convicted of ANY felony within the past 10 years.
  • Delivery of Medical Marijuana would be prohibited for the first 2 years.
  • Restrictions for locations would include 1000 feet from any sober living home and 600 feet from any school.
  • Dispensaries would be limited to Industrial areas in the City.  A map provided with the staff report showed the locations where only 12 such dispensaries could be located.
  • Very stiff taxes would be assessed.
Among the many other issues that are problematic included the two initiatives that have already qualified to be placed on a ballot before the voters, most likely in November 2016 because they contain tax language that requires them to be on a General Election ballot.  The conversation went round and round about whether this ordinance should be passed and implemented, dispensaries established, then new laws passed which would require the unraveling of those organizations.

A big stumbling block, as clearly articulated by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer - who stated several times that he didn't know why we were there - is the possibility of state and/or federal laws that would change the whole ball game.   For example, throughout the evening speakers mentioned the move in the United States Senate to change the way the Federal Government views Medical Marijuana.  You can read about that HERE.  And - some of you will find this fascinating - former Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick is now somehow involved with an organization crafting an initiative to place the Recreational Use of Marijuana on the 2016 California ballot.  He submitted correspondence to be considered by the council for this meeting.

The question of whether or not a Conditional Use Permit should be required.  After much discussion, in which Councilwoman Sandra Genis led the way, it was determined that a CUP - which would run with the land - is NOT the way to go for this kind of an operation.

Enforcement was also a big issue.  Does the Police Department enforce the rules, or does Code Enforcement, or a hybrid organization?

Nine members of the public spoke on this issue.  Charles Mooney outlined the shortcomings and missing links in the decision-making process with this issue.  Quality control, products like "concentrate" and "edibles" had not been given adequate discussion.

Lawyer Matt Pappas told the council that Monahan's original ordinance was better, and that the one being discussed would certainly generate much litigation - from him and others.

Commercial realtor Jason Piazza told the council that such businesses should NOT be prohibited from Commercial areas from a safety and parking standpoint.  He didn't mention that he'd likely make a lot of money if they were permitted in Commercial zones.

Ann Parker talked about restricting outlets from areas near group homes for the elderly, and suggested that since Santa Ana had approved selling the products right across our border, we should restrict it altogether.

Harold Weitzberg, who operated a dispensary with his wife, Joyce, offered to be an expert instructor in the medical side of the issue, to help educate the council and staff.  He suggested that "we need to deal with facts, not emotion." - a comment I interpreted to be directed at Foley.  They had provided a letter to the council on this issue with several points outlined that they felt should be considered.  They disagreed with the: limiting locations to industrial areas; requirement of records access; the security requirements; the amount of the special tax - 15%; the $10 per square foot fee for cultivators; the prohibition on deliveries and the enforcement of quality control.

Medical Marijuana user Paul Lucas suggested there be no limitation by geography to the locations.

Lisa Carlyle was aghast at the excessive fees recommended in the latest edition of the ordinance, implying that many operators wouldn't be able to make a living.  I smiled just a little bit when she said that.

The final speaker was Suzi Iwamoto, who suggested that we slow down and include any new ordinance in the General Plan update that's in progress.  She talked about campaign contributions from groups that would benefit from such an ordinance and "union employees drafting an ordinance that would benefit them" and told us she didn't have a problem with cannabis, per se, but thought we should take a more deliberate approach.

Following that 35 minutes of comment time by the public the council re-engaged in their discussion.  Righeimer suggested that, among other things, this was just a money grab and that he thought the issue should appear on the ballot in November, 2016 and let the voters decide which measure they want in our city.  He also expressed concern about the probable state and federal legislation/ballot measures.

Foley said she didn't have a problem with placing a more fine-tuned version on the ballot, and tabling it until next year.

Monahan suggested we observe the Santa Ana implementation and suggested that recreational use was "polling crazy numbers", and would likely be on the November 2016 ballot.  He said he could count and knew he didn't have the numbers to go forward with an ordinance at this time.  He said he was OK with most of the changes proposed, but was NOT OK with the prohibition on delivery and the taxes, which he described as a "money grab".  And, he said he agreed with every word of the Weitzberg letter "100%".  He agreed so much that he repeated himself!

Genis also expressed concern about the possibility of state and/or federal laws and the amount of the taxes to be imposed and suggested that if delivery was authorized it should be by two people per vehicle for security purposes.

Occasionally the term "cartels" came up in the discussions.  Obviously, members of the council are concerned about drug cartels getting a foothold in our city.  Seems like a reasonable concern, especially since we NO LONGER have a Narcotics unit thanks to Righeimer.  Foley, among other things, said, "This is not about medicine, it's about money!"

Righeimer reiterated that it was a mistake having this meeting today, that we needed to have state and federal guidelines and that for the city council to attempt to manage this is "above our pay grade".  He said it will "have a corrupting effect on the city because there's too much money involved."  Sorry, I got just the slightest smile on my face again..

So, the upshot is that it looks like this issue will get some rest now.  It was clear that there would be three votes to not go forward with the creation of an ordinance right now.  It's unclear whether it will be returned to the council for an official decision in the near future or not.  There apparently may be more legal issues pending - that was also unclear at the meeting.  One thing was clear to me... the council is frustrated by this situation and probably feel helpless to significantly manage this issue.

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Riggy whining about a "money grab" just doesn't have that air of authenticity.

And poor little Jimmy Fitzy. Did the lobbying group hire this sad sack for a few hundred dollars based on his vast planning commission experience? Thank God for working spouses.

3/11/2015 06:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I hate it, but I agree with Righeimer. ..."have a corrupting effect on the city because there's too much money involved." And he should know!

The only thing that wakes Gary up is money. If this is something he's pushing, I'm voting NO on it. Let the surrounding cities deal with it. We have 26% of the rehab homes in Orange County. We are known as the "go to" city for black tar heroine. Do we really need more drugs, potential cartel problems, and corruption that we intentionally brought upon ourselves?

3/11/2015 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

To clarify,
In my comments to the council I informed them on the law that outlines that there are no geographical limitations on where cannabis is grown for a collective as long as it is grown in the State of California.
I also advocated for the patients in Costa Mesa that are of such a state of disability that they are on permanent disability to be granted permits to run the dispensaries in order too preserve the integrity of prop 2145 and SB 420.

3/11/2015 08:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Nyquist said...

Reading all about marijuana, medical or otherwise, from people who know nothing about marijuana, is a lot like reading what it must be like to be a Veteran, from someone who has not served in the military.

This whole fiasco for the last 50 years is so lame. I laugh when I read all about the dangers of weed and now the cartels. What a crock of crap. A $10.00 a square foot levy, 15% tax etc. Are you drunk? Have another drink. If you simply legalize the stuff, the problems go away. I have sat at the VA Hospitals from Phoenix to every one of them in Southern California, and piles of the doctors want to prescribe cannabis and its by products every day to help people like me with fuchs dystrophy, iritis, glaucoma, and a whole host of cancer issues, but are forbidden, and they can not understand why. Have you ever heard of a doctor with a medical license wanting to prescribe Kentucky Bourbon to anyone? I never have
California state law says you can grow weed right in your house if you have a card, and there is not one thing the city can do about it. Zero, zip, nada. It also says you can smoke it in public. There is a reason that it is simple to drive two blocks from South Coast Plaza and by weed. The people who live in that town have an actual handle on reality, rather than the illusion. Marijuana will be legal in this state and probably the entire country in another 3 or 4 years. Obama likes the Elephant Weed from Molokai the best. Clinton probably has a pot card.

Now if you want to eradicate the worst drug on the planet that actually is a problem, and has ruined our society, put alcohol on the schedule 1 list. What a sick drug. Just because George Washington was the largest distiller of booze in the nation making him immensely wealthy, is no reason to continue to fuel our society on that nasty high.

I bet the change in Jim Fitzpatrick comes from finally deciding to smoke a little herb and seeing how stupid he has been, while looking in the mirror, laughing at himself for being such a dumbass, getting hammered on booze, acting like an ass, instead of a nice mellow smoke.

3/11/2015 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

How about using Santa Ana dispensaries which are scheduled to be on CM border at 55/405. We don't need mj dispensaries in our city. We have enough to contend with including sober living, 60% renters, high density and traffic, deseminated police department...please Costa Mesans look at who is pimping mj, Fitz and Monahan, enough said.

3/12/2015 12:38:00 AM  

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