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Council Wants More Info before Deciding Fate Of Proposed Pot Dispensary

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The City Council wants more information on opening Santa Monica to pot clubs, which for a decade have proliferated in progressive cities across the state.

Heard at the request of Nathan Hamilton, who has spent nearly $14,000 to secure a space on Main Street and Pacific for a marijuana dispensary, Tuesday's vote does not necessarily indicate support for the dispensary, which requires a zoning change.

While the 4 to 1 vote directed staff to return with information on where medicinal marijuana clinics could be allowed and how the clubs are regulated in other cities, council members had serious questions about how the dispensary would operate.

"The voters were fairly clear on their issues on marijuana in the last election, and I think we should implement or seriously consider the will of the voters here," said Council member Ken Genser.

"If we are going to do that, though, we need to do so in a responsible way."

Proposition U -- which made possession of marijuana the lowest priority for local law enforcement -- was passed by 65 percent of the voters last November.

In addition, in 1996, 73 percent of Santa Monicans voted for Proposition 215, a State measure that legalized marijuana for medicinal use, said former mayor Michael Feinstein.

"I hope with that mandate you will give direction to staff, not just a way to look into the issue, but a way to actually implement the public's will," Feinstein told the council.

But Council member Bob Holbrook, a pharmacist, said he would oppose any efforts to open a marijuana dispensary in Santa Monica, before casting the only dissenting vote.

"I just don't want to permit this activity at all," he said in his only comment on the issue.

Resident Jenna Lennikens, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in November, said she, too, would oppose the zoning change needed before the City can issue a business license.

"I firmly believe this is not the right to allow marijuana clinics into our city," she said. "We need to wait until there are proper bodies and oversight until we bring this into Santa Monica."

Currently Los Angeles is reviewing its regulations for marijuana clinics, which have mushroomed since 2005. Last month 11 clinics were raided in Los Angeles County, after Federal authorities said marijuana is still illegal at a federal level.

But some council members said they would be open to the idea of allowing pot dispensaries and said the council should not base its decision on Federal interpretations of the law.

"Our state and the federal government are in disagreement on this issue," said Council member Kevin McKeown. "I don't think we should predicate our actions on... this present administration."

McKeown, however, echoed Genser's call for more information and asked for the police department's input.

Mayor Richard Bloom said he is "undecided" on the subject, while Bobby Shriver also voted to seek more information, with little comment.

Dressed in suits and ties, Hamilton and Chris Fusco, field coordinator for the medicinal marijuana advocacy group SafeAccess, addressed the council close to midnight.

"As to the patients, there is no safer place for them to get their medicine," Fusco said. "They operate with cooperation from the City, as opposed to being pushed to the outside."

To back up their arguments that such dispensaries actually lower crime, Fusco passed out an information packet citing a UC School of Public Welfare study which interviewed several municipal officials in cities zoned for such clinics.

"They made their city safer," said Fusco.

Hamilton — who said he would provide the mandated 24-hour surveillance and security guard — said he is already working to build community support.

"The landlord has family who are patients," he said. "I have already cleared it with all the tenants inside and also in neighboring buildings.

"I am not near schools, libraries or public parks," he told the council.
Hamilton said he and his partner are prepared to pay nearly $3,500 a month in rent, while they wait for the full council to take up the issue.

Source: The LookOut News
Author: Olin Ericksen
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Website: Santa Monica Lookout
 
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