HUNTINGTON PARK — After a contentious discussion that went past midnight Feb. 19, the City Council is expected to take final action March 15 to allow up to three medical marijuana shops in an industrial area of the city, which could bring in about $750,000 a year in fees.
City Manager Edgar Cisneros said 15 percent of the money could go to programs for youth and senior citizens while another 15 percent might be used to reduce city water rates.
“It’s dirty money, don’t accept it,” a protester said.
The vote was 4-1 with Councilman Valentin Amezquita dissenting.
Those in favor of the marijuana dispensaries said they are allowed by state law and would help people suffering from serious illnesses.
One supporter declared that “no one has overdosed on marijuana,” which she said was safer than smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.
But Dr. Robert Newman, a clinical psychiatrist, said marijuana impairs driving and has resulted in deaths and numerous accidents in states that allow the recreational use of marijuana: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Opponents said marijuana dispensaries attract crime and are subject to abuse with fake prescriptions.
They noted it is not approved by the federal government and said it is not endorsed by health organizations.
Cisneros said staff recommended changing the city law, which currently bans dispensaries, so the city can regulate marijuana transactions easier because of numerous restrictions.
Police Chief Cosme Lozano agreed, saying he would rather know the shop locations to keep an eye on them as opposed to having underground sales.
Cisneros noted that the council could choose to reject individual claims for dispensaries and have zero shops.
He said the Huntington Park law would allow city restrictions regardless of how state voters act on proposed recreational use of marijuana on the November ballet.
The Huntington Park law would require a strict permitting process for dispensaries, delivery and cultivation.
Restrictions would include: locations away from homes, schools, churches and parks; 24-hour security with armed guards on site, camera surveillance and a professionally monitored alarm system; and prohibition of on-site monetary purchases, thus no money would be available to steal.
Also limited hours of operation, controls to ensure that medical marijuana is distributed only to qualifying patients or primary care givers and criminal background checks of owners and employees.
Councilwoman Marilyn Sanabria said she is a health care worker dealing with seriously ill patients and that “this area has a cancer cluster,” apparently from numerous air and soil contamination in the area.
Amezquita said that while he knows of and sympathizes with those in pain, “they can easily get marijuana someplace else, such as Los Angeles.”
Cisneros said the new Huntington Park law might save the city millions in legal costs, such as those paid to shut down dispensaries in recent years.
Lozano agreed, saying his department has been trying to shut down a dispensary on Santa Fe Avenue near Gage Avenue since October 2015, but the owner has gone to court challenging the city ban.
“We would need to hire about 20 more police officers to provide proper surveillance,” said resident Rodolfo Cruz of the dispensaries.