WeHo City Council Contemplates Regulations for Recreational Marijuana Shops

With recreational use of marijuana becoming legal in California on Jan. 1, 2018, thanks to the passage of Prop 64 in November, cities across the state are pondering how to regulate the sale of cannabis.

The passage of the statewide Prop 64 in November leaves many regulatory concerns in the hands of the state. But individual cities can make their own decisions on issues such as licensing retail marijuana stores, taxing marijuana sales, allowing on-site consumption, allowing home delivery of marijuana and allowing warehousing of marijuana. California cities have until Jan. 1 to enact local ordinances, otherwise, the state laws will prevail.

Medbox, vincent Mehdizadeh, marijuana vending, marijuana dispensaryThe West Hollywood City Council began discussing those issue Monday night, but had few answers. Instead, the five Council members opted to hold a special study session with experts to before setting policy. That meeting likely will be held in late June or July.

The primary thing the Council agreed upon was that retail marijuana stores in the city should be separate from the four existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
Councilmember John D’Amico pointed out that the business acumen that makes a medical marijuana dispensary successful might not be the same as the knowledge and skill necessary for a retail marijuana business to succeed.

“The four dispensaries that we have, I don’t think are ready to operate in prime time yet,” D’Amico said. “I think they serve the medical use community quite well, exquisitely in fact. But I can imagine a $400-a-night tourist on the Sunset Strip having a certain experience, someone shopping on Melrose having a different experience and someone on the Eastside having yet a third experience, and none of those experiences is captured by our current dispensaries.”

Pointing out that marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, Councilmember John Duran noted that President Trump’s administration has indicated it will likely leave medical marijuana alone, but may crack down on recreational marijuana sales and use in states that have approved it. Duran feared that allowing a merger of medical and retail stores could possibly jeopardize the medicinal aspects citizens need.

“I actually think the medical marijuana collectives in the city would have far greater protection in their current role as medicinal distributors,” Duran said. “If we allow them to then expand into adult use, we place them at risk of federal prosecution. We should be making them aware of the risks involved and let them decide what risks they are willing to take.”

That discussion, however, might be moot as Gov. Jerry Brown has indicated he favors merging the medical marijuana and retail marijuana businesses across the state.

An audience member suggested the Council form a Cannabis Advisory Board to provide guidance on the issues being discussed. The Council responded that the study session with experts should suffice, but did not eliminate the possibility of creating a Cannabis Advisory Board in the future.

The city’s tools for regulating retail marijuana businesses would be through land use restrictions and business licenses. Consequently, the city’s Planning Commission and the Business License Commission would be involved in these decisions. Mayor Lauren Meister noted that businesses must apply for requiring them for marijuana sales too.

West Hollywood law allows a maximum of four medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city. The Council was open to the idea of having more than four retail marijuana businesses in the city, but its members no idea what the maximum should be. D’Amico suggested that the marketplace would quickly determine the proper number.

The city already has a list of people interested in opening retail marijuana shops, but Duran suggested that rather than use a lottery system to determine who gets to operate in WeHo, the city should carefully screen potential operators to be sure they get the best business operators.

As for locations of the retail businesses, the Council agreed they only should be on major commercial corridors, which is also a requirement for medical marijuana dispensaries (the city’s four existing medical dispensaries all happen to be along Santa Monica Boulevard). City regulations require those dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet apart from each other and none of them can be within 500 feet of a church/temple, school, day-care center or playground. However, the state regulations regarding locations would extend the distance from schools, playgrounds and parks to 600 feet.

Although the city can collect sales tax on retail marijuana sales, any special tax on marijuana would require voter approval. The earliest the city could hold such a referendum would be in 2019. Meister pointed out that the city will need a way to assure that it is getting all of the taxes it is due because marijuana dispensaries are cash-only businesses because of concerns that the federal government could seize money and assets deposited with banks.

The Council seemed to favor allowing on-site consumption in some stores, similar to that in the famous coffee shops in Amsterdam where marijuana can be purchased and smoked on site. However, such on-site businesses would have to operate under different regulations from stores that sell marijuana for off-site consumption.
Few warehouses of any type exist within the city because land prices are so high, so the Council felt marijuana warehouses were unlikely to open.

As for home delivery of marijuana, Councilmember Lindsey Horvath suggested those regulations should mimic the rules regarding home delivery of alcohol.

Resident Michael Wojtkielewicz pointed out that marijuana use in federally funded housing (including Section 8 housing) is illegal and grounds for eviction. The Council agreed that public education about marijuana and housing issues would be needed.

  1. @alison….there are several places that have better prices than others. I must admit it isn’t cheap anywhere, but I go to one that has the best prices i have found so far. Please compare and maybe you will be able to find a price that fits your budget. Medicine unfortunately never seems to be cheap.

  2. Why don’t we consider letting the dispensaries decide whether or not they want to sell recreationally? Several have been in the game for so long, they should have first crack at it. And I dispute D’Amico’s claim that the business acumen for a medical dispensary might not translate to recreational. First off, recreational hasn’t existed, so it should start somewhere – like the people who actually understand marijuana already. And second, let’s be real – while many people do use marijuana for legitimate medical purposes, a significant portion of “medical” users are simply using the loophole and are using it recreationally – so these dispensaries are essentially already selling for recreational use. Let’s call a spade a spade, a bud a bud, and let them decide if they want to sell recreationally.

  3. For some of us, the dispensaries are NOT affordable either, Jimmy. I had a Rx but I let it lapse because I couldn’t afford the medicine. It really sucks being poor.

  4. I am not an expert on the topic of the laws/differences/upcoming laws between medical and recreational use of weed. As many know, I work hard at getting people..mostly gay men into rehab for meth.

    That being said I feel compelled to state this out loud. After recent stomach surgery, I couldn’t take any type of pain pills because of the nature of the surgery. All I could take were morphine shots, administered by a home nurse. They did nothing and made me feel very weak. So, rather than deal with those side effects, I just was trying to endure the pain.
    My Dr. recommended CBD pot. It is a component of pot, that has no psyche effects like THC does. I was skeptical, but the pain was pretty bad and his words were , “Don’t be a hero. There is no prize for enduring suffering.”

    I have used CBD almost daily, in many ways. Under the tongue oil, vape, smoke, and water. It has literally been a miracle for me. It has no “high” effects, and relieves the constant throb of pain from major surgery.

    The reason I am writing this, is not to promote pot use. That is a personal choice that people will/can make. I am hoping that the city will decide to keep the medical facilities and the recreational facilities separate. I am not looking to go to a shiny, luxurious place to purchase medicine that I need. And this is Weho. We will have the best and most exclusive, expensive places available once recreational pot becomes available. The designers will probably put out their own strains.

    I imagine it will become not affordable once that happens. Leaving the well run dispensaries separate, requiring a Drs. Rx will help the patients that are using it literally for medicinal purposes. It has been my experience that at all of these medical facilities, the workers are well informed, helpful, and genuinely seem to know/care about which strain is best for any particular illness/need.

    Let the fancy, shiny recreational places open. Let them serve in Weho style. In the meantime let’s not price out the patients who NEED this medicine.

    I don’t support the idea that we should be liberal in where pot is smoked. We don’t see liquor stores allowing people to mix martinis in them, once the liquor is purchased. . Let the pot “bars” open if that is so desired. When I go to a dispensary for medicine, I am going for a particular strain that is not psyche active. I don’t want to be in a cloud of THC when I am there for CBD.

    Also, I pay taxes on every item I have purchased at the dispensaries. So I am not sure where that is going, but it IS being collected. I will be curious to see how the city deals with our ever changing landscape in California.

    FYI—I have zero judgement on either medical use or recreational use. People have always made their own choices and like alcohol, can hopefully enjoy pot in moderation, in the correct atmosphere.

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