El Monte is one step closer to allowing medical marijuana manufacturers and distributors to set up in the city while still outlawing dispensaries.

A slim majority of the council on Thursday approved the city’s new ordinance, which would permit businesses that grow, manufacture, research and distribute medical marijuana. The ordinance must still come back for a second reading and final vote on Oct. 17.

The vote comes almost two months after residents angry with the proposal prompted council members to ask city staff to change rules in the ordinance over where businesses could operate, among other changes.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]Previously, businesses had to be at least 600 feet away from schools and youth centers. That was increased to 800 feet.

City Councilman J. Gomez and Councilwoman Norma Macias were the dissenting votes Thursday.

The revised ordinance permanently bans cannabis retailers, dispensaries, microbusinesses and delivery services related to both recreational and medical marijuana.

The businesses allowed by the city would only be able to operate in specific areas. Research labs would be allowed in the Flair Park area of the city. Manufacturers and distributors would be allowed in the city’s northwest industrial area and in the East Valley Entryway area.

Regardless of the changes, several residents and local school staff members spoke at the meting to oppose the ordinance. Many were connected to Gidley Elementary School, which sits near El Monte’s industrial corridor at the intersection of Lower Azusa Road and Arden Drive.

“It’s an unsafe situation for kids already,” said Alba Zamora-Day, Gidley’s principal. “The campus and school community will be the ones most impacted by the decision you make. Even if these businesses have to stay 800 feet away, the kids will still have to face added traffic hazards and potentially crime nearby.”

City Councilwoman Victoria Martinez said Tuesday  she believed some residents who spoke were mistaken about crime rising around what could be the city’s marijuana businesses.

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“At no point has this community ever thought it would be OK that we should propose a retail point of sale, a place where people can go like a liquor store to pick up recreational or medicinal marijuana,” Martinez said. “What is proposed is nondescript manufacturing and cultivation warehouses.”

Several residents, including Macias, said allowing medical marijuana businesses in El Monte would tarnish the ctiy’s reputation. She also said the medical marijuana issue was a “distraction” from other areas the city could focus on.

“We should be working on expanding our parks and putting into attracting other types of businesses,” Macias said.

Martinez said as an “industrial town,” El Monte had a responsibility to consider the manufacturing opportunities of medical marijuana.

“We have big lots used for manufacturing, and other cities can’t even consider these opportunities because they don’t have the space,” Martinez said. “El Monte has this land sitting vacant without any potential businesses coming in to fill them. I’m not saying it’s automatic that we should think about this land for medical marijuana, but this ordinance makes it an option.”

A year ago, before voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use and commercial activity in California, El Monte established a moratorium banning all commercial cannabis  through July 2018 to provide time for the city to consider its options, said City Manager Jesus Gomez.

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