Council Approves Ordinance to Shut Off Water, Power to Illegal Pot Dispensaries

Ordinance would be limited to multiple violators from commercial and business properties only

Published : Tuesday, May 16, 2017 | 5:19 AM

Following a spirited discussion on both sides of the issue, the Pasadena City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the City to shut off power and water services to local illegal marijuana dispensaries. The ordinance would only apply to dispensaries which have been cited at least four times, and would not apply to residential or mixed-use buildings.

The new ordinance, which will take effect following the approval of a second reading — most likely before the end of June — will amend Titles 8 and 14 in chapter Chapter 14.04.030 of the Pasadena Municipal Code to permit suspension of City utility services for “violation of specific sections of the Pasadena Municipal Code.”

As background, the ordinance stipulates “Businesses which continue to operate in violation of the Pasadena Municipal Code after being cited, create potential nuisances and additional tools are needed to ensure compliance with the Municipal Code; The City of Pasadena has historically prohibited all marijuana related activities. Prohibition is accomplished through authority of the Zoning Code. “

“The City of Pasadena’s Zoning Code is a ‘permissive zoning’ system,” it continues, “which allows only those uses as specifically articulated and prohibits all other uses”

While California legalized recreational marijuana use last fall, cities still have the legal right not to allow dispensaries, and Pasadena has specifically banned medical marijuana dispensaries since 2005.

Chapter 8 of the Pasadena Municipal Code was amended in 2015 to prohibit commercial cannabis activities, including operating medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation and delivery of medical marijuana within the City of Pasadena.

There are currently nine illegal dispensaries currently operating in the City, a city official said in April. The proposed ordinance is modeled on similar actions taken by the City of Anaheim and currently being considered by the City of Los Angeles.

“The purpose of using a Notice of Utility Suspension, and the actual suspension of utilities where necessary, is to encourage timely and complete compliance with the provisions of this chapter and shall only apply to commercial and industrial uses,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance also emphasizes that suspension of utilities would not be applied to buildings with shared utilities.

“Utility suspension shall affect only the responsible person and there shall be no utility suspension that directly affects persons other than the property or lease/rent space under control and dominion of the responsible person,” the ordinance states.

The actual process of suspending a dispensary’s utilities could, in some cases, take as long as 3-4 months, following a step-by-step process laid out by the City’s code enforcement office: Following a code enforcement investigation that confirms the violation of the City’s code, a warning notice would be sent to the business, asking them to cease operations. Should the dispensary then comply, the case would be closed.

If, however, as has happened often lately, the violations continue with increasing fines attached, the City would issue a Notice of Utility Suspension after four citations. Each of the four citations could take a week to be issued, and then it would take another 35-70 days to issue the Notice of Suspension.

Once the Notice of Suspension is received, the applicant may file for a administrative review, in which his appeal may be denied or granted. Should the applicant be denied his or her appeal, a suspension request would be sent to Pasadena Water and Power in 21 to 39 days.

“Regardless of what side you’re on with the marijuana issue, these dispensaries are all operating illegally,” said Councilmember Victor Gordo, who also emphasized that the ordinance, once enacted, should target both the property owner and the business owner.

While the ordinance only applies to stopping illegally operating dispensaries, a number of opponents told the Council that the City was wrong in outlawing dispensaries in the first place, citing its helpful medical properties.

Cannabis patient Michael Boonthawesuk told the Council that several years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor “the size of a softball” under his skull. The tumor was successfully removed in surgery, and he was given a regimen of “six different prescription drugs,” which created other medical problems, he said. He then switched to medical cannabis, which he took by means of suppositories and creams, and said his “recovery process increased rapidly” and doctors at UCLA were “astounded” by its speed.

“Closing down dispensaries in Pasadena means patients like me are forced to the black market for our medication,” said Boonthawesuk. “This is not the time to enact measures that may result in patients’ safe access to be taken away.”

Allison Stutzka, student and opinion editor at the Courier at Pasadena City College, also cited the value of medical marijuana, and said she was a patient at Golden State Collective, one of the first dispensaries to open in the city. She implored the Council not to enact the ordinance.

Madison Heights resident Erica Foy, however, spoke out against the dispensaries and said that marijuana use among youth in Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for four years, is 56% higher than the rest of the country.
“‘This is what I want to avoid here,” she said.

Councilmember Margaret McAustin said she empathized with those patients who depend on medical marijuana, as she has a family member who has also used it successfully.

Following the public comments, Mayor Terry Tornek acknowledged the difficulty of the issue.

“I think, frankly, we have a conflation here of the issues that we’re going to be grappling with later this summer, in terms of whether we permit, and how we control, dispensaries,” Tornek said.

“There are three related issues as well — marijuana delivery, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana,” he continued. “We’ll have to grapple with all of those. We will likely hear some of these same arguments made again.”

The Council is due to officially decide on the legality of local dispensaries over the next few months.

“But,” Tornek continued, “The issue tonight is much more narrow, and that is illegal uses, and whether or not we should develop a new tool and try to avoid the proliferation and continuation of these uses, which are illegal and will be illegal for some months regardless of what might happen this summer.”

The Council then voted unanimously to accept the ordinance, which will return for review in a more final version, in June.

“I’m disappointed,” said Shaun Szameit, owner of Golden State Collective dispensary, which has operated since 2006 out of a storefront on Mentor Avenue next door to the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “I think they have rushed to a decision, and they are ignoring unintended consequences.”

Szameit noted that he feels that his business is different from other local dispensaries. He opened his shop before the City officially banned dispensaries, he said.

“There are illegal uses in the city, but I don’t believe that I am one of them,” he said. “I’ve tried to be a good neighbor and a responsible business owner.”

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