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Councilmember Requests Discussion On Placing
Medical Marijuana Ordinance On April 2014 Ballot

By Tiffany Rider - Assistant Editor

September 10, 2013 – Long Beach residents may get the chance to vote on the extent to which medical marijuana distribution is regulated within city limits.

An item on tonight’s (September 10) Long Beach City Council agenda requests the city attorney to prepare a ballot measure for the April 8 primary election “providing for the regulation of medical marijuana collectives.” The item was submitted to the city clerk by 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal’s office on September 5.

There are two major factors responsible for bringing forward this item. The first are the actions taken by Long Beach Citizens’ and Patients’ Rights Political Action Committee (PAC) to sue the city to recognize the signatures gathered by Jeremy Coltharp and Edith Frazier, filed with the city earlier this year, to authorize the city to regulate and tax medical marijuana collectives. In the original 43,159-signature petition submitted to the city in February, the city clerk was able to verify 31,294 valid signatures.

At the time, the petition sought a special election to put medical marijuana regulation on the ballot. Because the number of verified signatures was shy of the 15 percent of registered voters requirement of the city, the item was laid to rest. Now the PAC has attempted to resurrect the petition and use the verified, valid signatures to put the same ballot measure to a vote of the people in the April 8, 2014, primary election, as the number of valid signatures exceeds the requirement of 10 percent of registered voters for a primary election.

“We may have our personal orientation to certain issues, but it becomes compelling to have that discussion – whether we’ve had it 12 times before or not – when you have this movement of folks that gathered signatures,” Lowenthal told the Business Journal. “That’s not an easy thing to do. It takes time and resources. It’s also compelling when they want to ask the voters. That’s really what people are asking us to do.”

The second factor involved in this item coming to council is guidance on medical marijuana from the U.S. Department of Justice issued August 29, which may have deterred federal prosecutors from coming down on medical marijuana collectives.

“It is a good time for us to ask the city attorney to prepare for the city council an item that could either pick up where we left off when we had an ordinance in place or look at the ballot measure that garnered so many thousands of signatures to be placed on the ballot and give the voters an opportunity to determine the extent of which medical marijuana dispensaries should be regulated within the city limits,” Lowenthal said. “In that regard, it’s a fair time to ask that question to the extent to which we can regulate medical marijuana in our city limits.”

Those regulations could allow taxation of medical marijuana sales, something that Lowenthal said was part of the ordinance she originally brought to the council. The revenue generated from the tax would support public safety needs and be structured similarly to what Oakland has done in its regulation of medical marijuana collectives.

According to the staff report, the city clerk estimates adding a ballot measure to April 8 primary election would cost between $208,726 and $243,933.