Long Beach, California—birthplace to one of the biggest names in the cannabis world, Snoop Dogg—may finally allow brick-and-mortar medical-marijuana dispensaries to open. But that’s only after years of legal battles and city council bickering.
In November, voters in the city will be asked to decide on several marijuana-related initiatives, including the statewide effort to legalize recreational cannabis for adults, Prop 64. More relevant to the citizens of Long Beach are Measures MM and MA. Measure MM, if approved, would allow for medical-marijuana businesses and set taxes, while Measure MA would only set tax rates on such businesses. (I’ll get into the details of the measures below.)
The only problem with the two ordinances is that they seem very similar to the casual onlooker and are likely to confuse city voters into voting for one or the other. The Mayor’s office has not been helpful in dispelling any misconceptions regarding the two ordinances, and in fact seems to be disseminating propaganda to further add to the confusion. A press conference, hosted by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Long Beach Collective Association (LBCA), helped clarify the difference between the two measures and show clear support for Measure MM.
But will Long Beach voters receive the message and finally end this long-running saga?
The city has a strange history with medical marijuana. In 2010 Long Beach held a lottery to give permits to 30 or so dispensaries. The lottery itself was subject to accusations of corruption when the lottery-ball style machine did not work properly—some of the ping-pong-like balls did not actually fit through the holes in the machine.
Winners were literally chosen out of a recycle bin. The bin was shaken before each pick, if that makes you feel any better. Unsurprisingly, a local, heavily connected businessman with friends in the government came out of the lottery connected to five permits, more than any other group and more than legally allowed.
Not long after the lottery, Long Beach was sued over the ordinance and lost in state court. They were forced to redraft the ordinance or close the dispensaries, and they decided that it would be better to just shut the storefronts down. By October, 2012 all but a few unpermitted storefronts were put out of business, with the help of local police and the DEA. Since then Long Beach medical-marijuana patients have been forced to get their medicine through a number of unregulated delivery services. Despite some efforts to regulate these businesses, nothing has come to fruition until now.
Measure MM, if approved, will return legal marijuana businesses to Long Beach for the first time in years. Many of the dispensaries that won a permit under the lottery system in 2010 will receive priority in the application process. MM will set standard limits on how far a dispensary must be from a school, park, etc. It will also establish a tax of 6 percent on medical-marijuana sales, and a cultivation tax of a maximum of $10 per square foot of cultivation space.
For all other cannabis-related businesses (transportation, testing, distribution, etc.) there would be an annual tax of $1000. The number of dispensaries allowed would be determined by population, with about 30 dispensaries to start. This is the only measure that would allow marijuana businesses to legally operate in Long Beach.
Measure MA is only a tax measure and does not permit marijuana businesses. If Measure MM is approved, and measure MA gets more votes than MM, then it would establish the following taxes: 6 to 8 percent gross receipts tax on medical marijuana; an 8 to 12 percent tax on recreational marijuana; 6 to 8 percent of gross receipts for transporters, processors, and testing labs; and a $12 to $15 per square foot cultivation tax.
Again, Measure MA only comes into effect if MA gets more votes than MM, and MM gets more than 50 perdent of the vote. If MM does not garner 50 percent of the vote MA is a moot point—there will be no legal marijuana businesses, so there will be no taxes to collect.
That is the crux of the problem, as many people are likely to get confused by the similar language of the dueling measures and the sheer volume of information thrown at them this election cycle. The official California voter information guide has over 200 pages of said information. Larry King, a local advocate and businessmen, was concerned that many Long Beach residents have not yet received their local voter guides, which would help explain the differences between the two measures. The language and similarity between the two has even confused the politically savvy members of the Los Angeles Democratic Party’s ballot committee.
A member of the ballot committee, who wishes to remain anonymous, reports that the Los Angeles County Democratic Party initially had voted to support only Measure MA, and not Measure MM. This happened despite the party voting in favor of every other marijuana initiative in the state. According to the committee member, “These are politically aware and involved folks but they couldn’t figure it out.”
It currently appears that the LA County Democrats have straightened it out and decided to support both MM and MA, but if members of a major party’s ballot committee have trouble deciphering the text of a measure, how much trouble will the Average Joe have?
According to King, proponents of either measure promised not to campaign or spend taxpayer dollars promoting their favored ordinance. So when the City of Long Beach started sending out emails and flyers promoting Measure MA, the stakeholders in Measure MM took action of their own.
In an encouraging show of support, some political heavy hitters came to speak at a UFCW- and LBCA-hosted press conference. Three members of the Long Beach City Council, a director for UFCW, and local U.S. Rep Alan Lowenthal all came out to say some words in support of Measure MM. Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson was also present, but he did not speak or stand with supporters.
The arguments in favor of Measure MM should be familiar to proponents of marijuana, and ranged from the increased jobs provided, to the increased tax base, the increased safety of our neighborhoods, and to the increased access to what is, for many, a vital medication. City Councilmember Roberto Uranga even told a couple of anecdotes of people very close to him that have been positively affected by medical-marijuana use—one his wife, who used medical marijuana following a cancer diagnosis, and the other his late brother-in-law who, “because of medical marijuana he was able to extend his life, and live in a more painless atmosphere.”
Clearly there are many reasons, both logical and emotional, to support Measure MM. We can only speculate as to why this city has repeatedly put obstacles in front of its citizens’ desire for access to safe medical cannabis. But I think we are all in agreement with Rep. Lowenthal when he stated that, “The time is right to repeal the ban on medical marijuana in Long Beach.” The time is now, vote Yes on Measure MM.
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