East Edition

Whittier council calls for ban on pot operations

WHITTIER — On a unanimous 5-0 vote April 11, the City Council directed city staff to report back with a law banning all commercial operations for recreational marijuana, but split on whether to once again allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Henderson said he believes marijuana helps ease pain based on medical studies and personal observation.

The latter will be discussed at a later date, City Manager Jeff Collier said.

Community Development Director Conal McNamara said Proposition 64, approved by state voters Nov. 8, allows cities to permit commercial operations of non-medical marijuana, setting down regulations and taxes on them; or to ban such activities.

However, cities cannot ban provisions of Proposition 64 that allow adults 21 or older to smoke marijuana in their homes, possess up to eight grams and to cultivate up to six plants indoors. It also allows outside cultivation but that can be halted by cities and will be part of the requested Whittier ordinance. No date was set for review of the city law.

“I continue to oppose any sales of marijuana,” Councilwoman Cathy Warner said, adding the substance is still considered a drug under federal law, which supersedes state law. “I don’t support any use of marijuana at all.”

“I agree with Cathy,” Mayor Joe Vinatieri said. “We are making a strong statement.”

Henderson and Councilmen Fernando Dutra and Josue Alvarado also supported a complete ban. Alvarado went even further, calling for a way to circumvent the state law allowing cultivation in homes.

“What if there are kids in those homes?” he said, proposing permits for indoor cultivation “to protect the children.”

“That’s a great idea,” Dutra said.

But Henderson said such a law would be impossible to enforce.

“We can’t have a policeman outside every house,” Henderson said, adding that the use of marijuana in private homes is similar to the use of alcohol.

The council agreed to consult with Police Chief Jeff Piper and city attorneys on the issue.

Earlier in the evening, one man supported medical marijuana while another opposed any marijuana use.

The state law will take effect Jan. 1, 2018. Marijuana businesses must obtain a state permit and pay a 15 percent sales tax.

Marijuana facilities must be at least 600 feet from a church, school or playground. Smoking of marijuana would be prohibited in places where the use of tobacco is banned and must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, parks or day care centers, outdoors or in public places, the Proposition 64 rules state.

A city is allowed to impose local taxes on marijuana businesses with approval by voters in a public election, which would have been set at a future date if Whittier had opted for allowing commercial operations, McNamara said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries were allowed in Whittier in industrial areas but none currently operate. One such facility opened several years ago and caused no major problems, but closed because the owner had legal problems in other cities, Whittier police said.

Bellflower is working on an ordinance to spell out rules for marijuana growth, distribution and sales following voter approval of marijuana taxes in the municipal election March 7.

Norwalk continues to study the issue during a moratorium on both medical and non-medical marijuana sales approved last year, but has no date for council action, said Kurt Anderson, director of community development.

Downey, which like Norwalk does not allow medical or commercial marijuana dispensaries, has no current plans for an ordinance but will probably have to take some local action this year or have to abide by the state law and its rules, Community Development Director Aldo Schindler said.

In other action April 11, the council allocated $40,000 in Los Angeles County Proposition C transit funds to begin preliminary ground work to extend the Greenway Trail pedestrian and bicycle path from its current terminus at Lambert Road and Mills Avenue about 2.8 miles to the city’s eastern boundary.

Greg Alaniz, director of parks, recreation and community services, said the work would include soil testing and remediation, brush clearance and hazardous waste removal along the former Union Pacific right of way, purchased from the railroad.

He said that would also remove numerous homeless encampments along the route, which have caused health and safety problems.