Southern California

Long Beach will soon allow recreational marijuana sales, after City Council votes in favor of regulating industry

Recreational marijuana sales will soon be legal in Long Beach, after the City Council on Tuesday evening agreed to regulate the nascent industry.

The vote was 7 to 1. Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, representing District 5, voted no.

The regulations, laid out in a series of amendments to the municipal and zoning codes, are an attempt to reconcile the city’s laws with Proposition 64, which voters approved in November 2016; that proposition allowed recreational marijuana in the state, but gave cities the power to decide whether to allow such businesses.

Allowing recreational marijuana, a staff report said, could create an additional $750,000 in taxes in fiscal year 2019, on top of the projected $4.5 million in taxes medical marijuana businesses could bring into the city’s coffers. Officials also say the move could create jobs across several marijuana-related industries.

“It’s been pretty clear that voters in California support not only medical marijuana but recreational as well,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “It (the ordinance) reaffirms the will of the people.”

The city’s new rules apply to where and how businesses can sell, distribute, transport and cultivate marijuana for recreational purposes. But, officials say, the regulations won’t lead to a proliferation of pot shops in the city.

In order to sell marijuana in Long Beach, the regulations say, dispensaries must have both medical and recreational licenses.

Long Beach already allows medical marijuana because of a 2016 voter-approved initiative, which capped the number of dispensaries at 32, said Ajay Kolluri, the city’s cannabis program manager.

Under the soon-to-enacted rules, the 32 medical marijuana dispensaries whose applications were accepted last year – though only a handful have licenses and have opened – will have to apply to sell recreational marijuana. No new dispensaries will be allowed, unless one of those 32 close or lose their license.

Many of the other rules laid out in the medical marijuana initiative will remain: Dispensaries, for example, can open citywide, except for in residential neighborhoods; they must also be a 1,000-foot radius from schools and beaches, and a 600-foot radius from a park, library or daycare center, the staff report said.

During the public comment period, during which about five people spoke, one speaker said dispensaries should be farther away from schools and residential areas. She asked the council to vote against the measure.

“I hope you have a moral compass,” she said before the council voted, “and look after the children’s well-being.”

The regulations for non-dispensary marijuana businesses are not as stringent: There is no cap on how many of those businesses – distributors, cultivators – can open, though they will only be allowed in industrial areas. And, according to a staff report, they can apply for either a medicinal or recreational marijuana license – or both, if they choose.

Only having a single license, however, would limit which markets those businesses could work with. A cultivator with a medicinal license only, for example, would only be able to sell its product to a distributor with a medicinal license.

Because of the new regulations, the city will also create a social equity program, the purpose of which is to provide access to the marijuana industry for communities traditionally harmed the most by harsh, anti-marijuana laws. Long Beach joins Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento in starting social equity programs.

Those who qualify for the program will get certain benefits when trying to open up a marijuana business, such as fee waivers, an expedited application review, tax deferrals and “access to workshops to help navigate the city’s licensing process,” the staff report said.

To qualify, an individual must have:

  • An annual family income below 80 percent of the area’s median income and a net worth below $250,000;
  • And at least one of the following: an arrest or conviction for a citation or misdemeanor marijuana offense before the state passed its legalization of marijuana in 2016; or residency in a Long Beach census tract for at least three years where 51 percent or more of residents have a household income below 80 percent of the median income.

The city will also require marijuana businesses to allocate 40 percent to of annual work hours to those who are eligible for the social equity program.

“This provides an opportunity for local Long Beach residents to own their own businesses in an emerging market,” said Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents District 9 and had the local hire goal increased from 25 to 40 percent. “This is a great start.”

The council must vote once more before the city can begin regulating sales of recreational pot, but that action is considered pro forma.