Long Beach Police Chief McDonnell Warns New Medpot Ordinance Would Strain Police Resources Already Strained By Other Council Actions, Says Previous Ordinance Linked To Crimes, Nuisances, Adversely Affected Quality of Life; Others (Including CPAC) Favor New Ordinance That Doesn't Concentrate Outlets in Industrial Zones; Staff Will Return In Mid-August With Draft That Offers "Cascading" Zoning

  • Chief McDonnell says Fed'l DEA won't admit publicly that it doesn't allocate resources to areas that allow medpot sales. "We've been directed...and will continue to look at other serious issues such as human trafficking, prohibited possessors of guns, the realignment issues, gang crime and violent crime [but] the medical marijuana arena will negatively impact our ability to be able to address these and other issues."

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  • (July 21, 2014) -- As seen LIVE on July 17, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell told LB's non-elected Planning Commission on July 17 that the previous City Council's attempt to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries (ordinance stricken by appellate court) had adversely affected crime and quality of life and said enacting a new ordinance, favored by a former Council's majority, now being developed by city staff with Planning Commission input, would strain already-strained LBPD resources as well as other city agencies.

    Chief McDonnell began by saying "My own personal feeling, and I think that of members of the police department is in support of the Compassionate Use Act as it was intended and originally written...[T]he city about five years ago made an attempt to permit and license a limited number of dispensaries that proved to be not successful in our mind. Although 18 were allowed, there some 50 operating at one time."

    Chief McDonald said the previous ordinance, enacted after multiple Council meetings and revisions by a now-former Council majority (and subsequently stricken by an appellate court) "resulted in an adverse impact on the community's quality of life and the city's ability to be able to respond to complaints from the community. The result was a steady stream of complaints from residents and businesses directly to both the police department as well as to the various Council offices. In the City of Long Beach we've had a murder linked to a medical marijuana dispensary; we've had robberies, shootings and burglaries..." [and cited a number of other quality of life complaints.]

    Chief McDonnell continued:

    ...Our attempts to address the complaints and criminal activity in and around marijuana dispensaries proved to be a substantial burden on our already strained resources. Throughout our efforts to address medical marijuana, we've worked with many city departments, to name a few, the fire department, the city attorney's office, financial management, development services, the health department and public works. Enforcement has proven challenging because dispensaries have repeatedly been closed down only to open up within a few days...

    While our efforts at abating the nuisance these dispensaries created have been largely successful over time, the problem is still not fully resolved today as a handful of dispensaries continue to operate in our city. We're approaching two years since the citywide ban went into effect and three dispensaries remain open. The DEA no longer is assisting our efforts in Long Beach to address dispensaries. Any increase in need to address them will be borne solely by the Long Beach Police Department. They won't say this publicly at DEA. They'll tell you that they enforce all federal laws, but the reality is with their limited resources they're going to devote them to areas that do not facilitate the sale of marijuana.

    Chief McDonnell concluded: "...At the same time we [LBPD] has been asked from a resource standpoint to address dispensaries. We've been directed also, and will continue to look at other serious issues such as human trafficking, prohibited possessors of guns, the realignment issues, gang crime and violent crime. So taking a step backward, the medical marijuana arena will negatively impact our ability to be able to address these and other issues."

    Others at the Planning Commission meeting testified in support of enacting some type medical marijuana regulatory ordinance whose terms remain to be determined. The Central Project Area Council, represented by Jack Smith and Annie Greenfeld, said it supports and is willing to work with city staff to develop a new ordinance that doesn't concentrate dispensaries in WLB/NLB industrial zones and addresses other nuisances and abuses. (For their testimony text click here (Smith) and here (Greenfeld).

    An attorney representing 22 of the 24 outlets that survived the City's (now-court stricken) regulatory lottery process said her clients had incurred large sums to advance a new ordinance and ought to be given priority under a new ordinance.

    Multiple medical marijuana advocates testified in opposition to city staff's proposed text. Diana Lejins strongly called it incompassionate and said she supports roughly 95% of LBCPAC's recommendations.

    Planning Commission member Mark Christoffels suggested that staff develop an ordinance using "cascading" zoning that allowed medpot outlets starting with industrial zones and, if such zones aren't available in some Council districts, progressing to commercial zones, so the net effect could allow medpot dispensaries citywide.

    After hearing the Chief of Police's testimony, as well as comments from Commissioners and the public, LB Development Services Director Amy Bodek indicated staff will bring the Planning Comm'n in or about mid-August options for a revised ordinance that incorporates "cascading zoning" and possibly other suggested changes.

    Whatever the non-elected Planning Commission recommends will ultimately go to the City Council, where a new majority (Gonzalez, Price, Mungo, Uranga, Richardson) plus four continuing incumbents (Lowenthal, O'Donnell, Andrews, Austin) can decide whether or not to enact a regulatory ordinance or continue to ban outlets outright. If a Council majority opts to enact a new ordinance, Councilmembers will ultimately decide its terms.

    Marijuana continues to be banned under federal law (a matter that Congress can substantively change) although the Obama administration's Justice Department indicated in August 2013 that it won't challenge state laws allowing medical and recreational marijuana use if they don't run counter to eight federal priorities (forbidding distribution to minors or trafficking operations.)

    In February 2012, in enacting the city's previous medpot ordinance, the City Council voted to take a federal legislative advocacy position to "support legislation that would grant federal approval of medical marijuana procedures and regulations in state that have approved and implemented state legislation for use of medical marijuana."

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