Bell Gardens ‘Studies’ Options to Regulate Cannabis

Nearby cities, including Montebello, are also exploring the chance for new revenue.

By Carlos Alvarez EGP Staff Writer

With just three months until the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in California, cities like Bell Gardens must decide if they want to profit from the legalization of the drug.

Beginning Jan 1, 2018, state law will legalize the use, cultivation and manufacturing of recreational marijuana, but cities still have the ability to regulate those activities within their borders.

At the Bell Gardens City Council meeting Monday, Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez was clear about where she stands.

“We must ban all recreational and medical marijuana use” in the city, Rodriguez said in frustration. “Why are we still discussing this issue?”

She was referring to a “study session” report being presented by city staff exploring Bell Gardens’ options related to the sale or manufacturing of recreational marijuana in the city.

While the council was not scheduled to take any formal action, and it didn’t, staff was hoping to get direction on how to proceed in preparation for the immanent change in state law.

In August 2016, Bell Gardens adopted a total ban on growing and delivering medical marijuana in the city. At the time, Bell Gardens’ director of community development, Abel Avalos, told EGP that the new measures give Bell Gardens new tools to regulate those types of activities, which had started to pop up in greater frequency despite the city’s 2007 banning of medical marijuana dispensaries.

During a phone interview late last month, Avalos told EGP there was no formal plan to change city ordinances prohibiting the establishment of marijuana related businesses, but he added that city staff was continuing to study all potential impacts on the city, including the possibility of added revenue.

Nearby cities like Maywood, Bellflower, Huntington Park and Los Angeles are choosing to profit one way or another off the change of law. These and other cities in the Southland are exploring, or have already adopted, measures to allow the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and/or sales of recreational marijuana for a fee or by imposing a tax on the activity.

As of now, Vernon and Commerce, two highly industrial cities with large warehouses, ban all marijuana related activity in their cities.

Currently, Vernon’s “Municipal Code provides for a blanket prohibition on any and all marijuana-related business within City limits,” Lilia Hernandez, executive assistant to the city administrator told EGP last month in an email.

She said that the city is aware that the change in state law has increased interest in the topic, “and as such, City staff is currently reviewing information on the potential impacts associated with permitting marijuana businesses.” She added, however, that there is no “timeline for if/when the City’s position may change as it is necessary for us to ensure that all potential impacts (positive and negative) have been thoroughly considered.”

In September, the Montebello Planning Commission approved an ordinance that if adopted by the city council would permit cannabis manufacturing and testing businesses to open in areas zoned for industrial use and at least 600-feet from a school. Dispensaries would still be prohibited.

Residents have complained the proposed ordinance would push the marijuana-related businesses to locate on the city’s lower income Southside, protecting the city’s more affluent residents from any negative impacts such as increased crime, which could come from cannabis operations in the city.

Monday’s study session in Bell Gardens was intended to give the city council information on how the city could be impacted by the change in state law. Assistant City Attorney John W. Lam explained to the council that many other cities are rethinking their position due to the possible revenue to be gained. While no exact number was provided, Bell Gardens can profit from licensing and permit fees, direct sales of recreational marijuana and by imposing additional taxes, according to Lam.

Rodriguez, however, urged the council to think more about the children and young adults in the community, rather than any potential new monies for city coffers.

“No amount of money is worth the wellbeing of our kids,” Rodriguez said.

Mayor Jose J. Mendoza agrees that any position in favor of recreational marijuana use will affect children, but said he and the council have to decide what’s best for the city.

Mendoza, who teaches at Bell Gardens Intermediate School, told EGP he sees the affect marijuana has on his community and the younger generation. He explained that while the city has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for residents, it’s also up to parents to educate their kids on the dangers of marijuana use.

“We smell it now and it’s going to get worst,” Mendoza said. “It’s a moral dilemma that I feel we have to continue to look at and continue to dialogue about,” Mendoza said.

The council was presented with different regulatory options to consider: a complete ban on al cannabis related businesses, or to follow what some other cities have done and adopt a moratorium or temporary prohibition of the businesses.

A moratorium would require a vote in favor by 4 of the 5 councilmembers. It would essentially gives the city time to look at options without completely taking a firm position. A moratorium can last up to two months and is something Lam said the council should really consider.

“It’s (marijuana use) a sensitive issue that must be looked at thoroughly,” Lam said.

As of now, there is no set date for the city council to act on the recommendations.

EGP Managing Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

 

 

 

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October 12, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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