The city of Pasadena plans to shut off utilities to dispensaries that repeatedly refuse to comply with a citywide ban on medical marijuana sales.
The Pasadena City Council on Monday unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance expected to go into effect in June. Officials say they will only shut off water and power after exhausting the city’s existing code enforcement processes.
“We can’t have a situation here where we have continued, and with increasing frequency, illegal uses in our city,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.
More than a dozen dispensaries operate within Pasadena’s city limits, despite a 2005 ban on medical marijuana sales. Some do so overtly with signs and sandwich boards advertising their services.
While medical marijuana — and soon recreational marijuana — is legal in California, Pasadena blocks dispensaries through its zoning code. That means when a dispensary opens up in the city, it’s a code violation, not a criminal act.
The city can levy fines against a business, or try to force its closure through the courts, but the fines often are not punishing enough and the lawsuits can drag out for years. In a staff report, city officials said they recently shut down three dispensaries, only for three more to crop up.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin at Monday’s meeting. “We’ve felt that our hands are tied in shutting down these illegal businesses, so I’m supportive.”
The city’s new ordinance would allow the city, following a lengthy three- to four -month process, to turn off the utilities to any illegal business with its own meter. The City of Anaheim began using a long-standing ordinance to disconnect utilities to dispensaries starting in 2015. Los Angeles is also investigating a similar measure.
Pasadena will not cut the power or water if the meter is shared with another legal business, according to city staff.
Of six dispensaries operating in McAustin’s district, she said four have individual meters.
“This would provide a very important tool for us to put those businesses out of business,” she said.
The dispensary would get a notice at least 10 days before the utility suspension. This would only occur after receiving four citations for code violations, according to Pasadena’s planning department.
Pasadena is in the process of revising its marijuana regulations ahead of the coming legalization in 2018. The revisions are expected to come before the council in August.
Dispensary owners and advocates urged the City Council to hold off on the utility suspension ordinance until after they tackled the larger marijuana policies.
Shaun Szameit, president of the Golden State Collective, is one of the operators that Pasadena has been trying to shut down for years. The city sued his business and others last year, but the decision was later appealed. Despite the ban, Golden State unionized in December and Szameit says his business predates the 2015 ban.
Szameit called the timing of the ordinance “inappropriate” because the city is reviewing its marijuana regulations.
“We operate a responsible business, have an amicable relationship with all of our neighbors, including the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, which is our next door neighbor,” Szameit said. “We provide good jobs and safe access to patients who need medicine. This punitive action threatens the viability of my business and could severely impact my employees and patients.”
Several patients spoke out against the utility ordinance and described their successes with medical marijuana, including Michael Boonthawesuk.
After having a “softball” sized tumor removed from his head, the Pasadena resident said he switched to marijuana when the drugs given to him for pain caused too many side effects. Using strains with high levels of cannabidiol, his recovery increased and Boonthawesuk was able to deal with his pain with fewer risks, he said.
If Pasadena forces the dispensaries to shut down, he’ll have to turn to the “black market,” he said. “This is not really the time to enact measures that can result in patients’ safe access being taken away,” he said.
McAustin agreed with the patients, noting how a family member reduced his seizures from hundreds per day to zero after beginning to use a cannabis-based oil.
“I feel you on those issues,” she said. “That’s not what this about tonight. This is about illegal uses.”
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