Editor's Note: Check back with Santa Monica Patch for an update on the City Council's vote.
With 15 inquiries into City Hall from people interested in opening medical marijuana businesses in Santa Monica, the City Council was poised Tuesday night to adopt a temporary ban on business licenses for dispensaries.
The request for a 45-day moratorium comes from the city's planning department, because, it said in a report, the existing zoning codes—which are currently undergoing a substantial revision—don't contain regulations for how collectives should operate or where they should be located.
It would give staffers time to study how dispensaries might impact the community and determine what legal authority the city has to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana without violating conflicting state and federal laws.
The moratorium is recommended because the City has received inquiries about opening dispensaries and related businesses in Santa Monica; but the City's Zoning Ordinance currently does not contain regulations governing the establishment, location, and operation of medical marijuana collectives. And, the law governing the City's authority to adopt and enforce such regulations is, for the time being, extremely uncertain.
In October of last year, federal prosecutors announced an aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, prompting the U.S. Attorney to begin a coordinated prosecution effort that has since shuttered hundreds of the businesses and collectives. Federal prosecutors have also challenged the authority of cities and counties to enact land use regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
California voters in 1996 approved the "Compassionate Use Act," which legalized the use of medical marijuana. But the state has yet to adopt guidelines for how it should be distributed by dispensaries, and marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.
Several California cities have enacted moratoriums on the approval of dispensaries until their legal status under state and federal laws is clarified, Santa Monica city planners said in their report.
Medical marijuana advocates in the city of Los Angeles have collected more than 49,000 signatures to force a referendum on a newly-adopted ordinance there that calls for the closure of all medical marijuana storefronts. The Los Angeles City Council's ordinance was prompted by public complaints as well as by the lack of guidance from the state and courts about how to regulate the shops.
The Los Angeles council is expected to vote Tuesday to either repeal the ban or put the issue on the city's ballot.
The moratorium proposed in Santa Monica requires a four-fifths vote. The council also has the power to later extend the ban for up to 22 months and 15 days.