Southern California

Orange County cities set new bans on marijuana businesses

Two Orange County communities have become the latest to pass restrictions on marijuana operations within city limits.

The Anaheim City Council voted earlier this week to ban all commercial marijuana operations, including the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of pot for recreational or medical use. Anaheim is the largest city in Orange County.

“I think this is a measured way to protect ourselves while we wait for the state,” to issue its new guidelines, Councilwoman Kris Murray said.

By early next year, officials expect the state to start issuing licenses for the commercial cultivation, transportation and purchase of recreational marijuana. City officials say the ordinance Anaheim is putting in place gives the city control of the issue, rather than deferring to yet-to-be-known state laws.

“If we do not act before they issue licenses, we will be prohibited from controlling this,” said Acting City Attorney Kristin Pelletier. “We will lose our local control.”

The council’s move maintains the city’s stance against marijuana collectives. The city banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2007; a judge upheld the city’s prohibition after it was challenged in 2011 by medical-marijuana patients. The city still has about dozen medical marijuana dispensaries running illegally.

Since January,  adults age 21 and over have been allowed by state law to carry up to an ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis. Residents may also grow up to six marijuana plants at their home.

The city’s ordinance, which will go into effect next month after a second ratifying vote, will also limit people to growing marijuana plants in their homes or backyards, but not in a front yard.

Anaheim officials say they are banning marijuana operations within city limits to ensure that they retain control over them once Prop. 64 is fully in effect. (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)

Kandice Hawes-Lopez, director of the Orange County Chapter for NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), said she’s not surprised by Anaheim’s decision. The city has a history of being restrictive, she said, and was one of the first to ban marijuana deliveries.

But she hopes Anaheim and other cities rethink their bans. There are a lot of financial benefits from having marijuana collectives operate in the city, she said.

“I do think that in the future, cities like Anaheim will rethink their bans on commercial marijuana once they see the benefits it can bring to a city,” she said. “Although funded by tourist dollars, the city of Anaheim could use the funds to improve roads, school programs and start taking care of their graffiti problem outside of the tourist area.”

Two large Orange County cities haven’t passed bans are Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. Santa Ana had a lottery system for operating 20 dispensaries and Costa Mesa has approved some medical marijuana businesses, such as research facilities, but not dispensaries.

 

Last week, the Laguna Woods City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that bans medical and non-medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The action comes about nine years after Laguna Woods became the first city  in Orange County to pass an ordinance — by unanimous council vote — allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

The City Council’s primary reason for prohibiting dispensaries was a potential increase in law enforcement costs, officials said. According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, cities that have marijuana dispensaries tend to have increased crime rates and therefore need more police officers to respond to calls, City Attorney David Cosgrove said.

“We need to be very sensitive to the potential increases in our law enforcement costs that might result from a different distribution of demand for police services,” Cosgrove said.

Law enforcement accounts for about half of the city’s budget, said Mayor Shari Horne, who added that for her, passing the ordinance was made with a “heavy heart.”

“If any city should have a dispensary, it should be this city,” Horne said. “Cannabis takes care of many of the side effects from the medications many seniors take, our residents find great value in this.”

Council members in 2008 passed an ordinance that allowed medical marijuana dispensaries. Although no dispensaries ever opened in the city, the Laguna Woods Medical Cannabis Club has a medical marijuana cooperative, and it may run into issues with regulations in the statewide Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which goes into effect January 2018, City Manager Chris Macon said.

The city will continue to allow the delivery of medical and non-medical marijuana for qualified patients and customers of dispensaries in nearby cities.