The Long Beach City Council voted this week to move forward with developing a policy that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to operate in the city as soon as 2018.

The decision comes as the Long Beach’s first medical marijuana businesses begin to open their doors, and weeks before the state of California begins issuing business licenses for recreational cannabis.

Last November California voters approved Prop. 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, at the same time Long Beach voters approved Measure MM, which repealed a local ban on medical cannabis businesses and created safeguards for their existence.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]At present, there are 108 applications for various medical marijuana businesses pending in the city of Long Beach, and two of a possible 32 dispensaries have opened their doors in the Rose Park and Belmont Shore areas. On Jan. 1, the state will start considering business license applications in any cities that haven’t explicitly banned such businesses.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Councilwoman Suzie Price said the city should enact a temporary ban and wait until the medical side is fully rolled out before reevaluating recreational cannabis, but others, including Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, believed Long Beach should create a policy now before the industry tries to do so. Both Measure MM and Prop. 64 were citizen initiatives.

“We tried time and time again to pass an ordinance and we failed to do so, and the result was the industry went to the ballot and sort of tied the city’s hands,” he said.

“If we don’t take decisive action to own this issue and create public policy that’s right for our city now,” he continued, “we could very well be in a position where folks are going to the ballot next year.”

The council voted 5-3 to direct staff to begin creating policy recommendations for a proposed adult-use ordinance that would lay out regulations for commercial recreational businesses. That process, however, will not be complete before the Jan. 1 statewide rollout, so the city will also enact a temporary ban on those businesses for 180 days, or until a final proposed ordinance is ready for City Council consideration.

Price, Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and Councilman Daryl Supernaw voted against the proposal. Councilman Al Austin was absent for the vote.

As part of the process, city leaders will need to determine how many dispensaries they want to allow and where those businesses could be located in addition to outlining conditions of approval and a process for non-dispensary businesses to convert to adult-use, according to a staff report. Staff is recommending the council maintain the cap of 32 dispensaries as was established under Measure MM. Staff is also recommending the council consider requiring medical and adult-use dispensaries to co-locate within the same facility.

Prior to taking the vote, Richardson asked that officials include in the policy a social justice provision that would ensure these business licenses go to a diverse pool of applicants, as well as a labor provision that requires cannabis employers to pay the living wage and provide a safe work environment. He pointed to the city of Oakland’s policy as a reference point.

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In a phone interview Wednesday, Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said that although the council has given the green light to move forward on the issue, there is no guarantee they will actually adopt the policy recommendations that come before them next year.

“At the end of the process, we don’t know what they will decide,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Long Beach went through a lengthy process to craft a local marijuana policy and then voted it down. A similar situation happened in 2016 with a proposed medical marijuana policy that was more restrictive than what the industry wanted. The City Council voted to kill a proposed policy that would have phased in medical marijuana businesses and allowed a handful of delivery-only dispensaries. That vote was the catalyst that launched the citizen initiative process.

Cities across California have been grappling with the issue of whether to allow recreational pot since before the November 2016 election, including several municipalities that moved to ban in anticipation of Prop. 64’s passage.

Local cities of Lakewood, Cerritos and Downey have already prohibited the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana in their jurisdictions, while Carson and Bellflower have agreed to allow sale of recreational marijuana in some form.

Carson made the decision to open its doors to commercial marijuana growing, testing and manufacturing during a special meeting this month. The City Council also approved licensing door-to-door delivery operations and added restrictions on personal-use cultivation allowed by the state beginning Jan. 1, requiring random home inspections. Council members in Carson stopped short of approving marijuana dispensaries, but agreed to allow four locations in the city for indoor commercial operations including growing and manufacturing of oils, waxes and edibles.

Bellflower, meanwhile, is already accepting applications for recreational cannabis store permits. The city passed an ordinance this summer that would allow up to 12 licenses for dispensaries, cultivators and processors.

In developing a local policy, Long Beach officials will look to statewide marijuana industry regulations when they are released later this month.

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