Published : Tuesday, April 18, 2017 | 5:19 AM
The second round of community meetings hosted by City’s Planning and Community Development Department are set to resume Tuesday as a part of an initiative aiming to gather input from residents about how they want to regulate marijuana businesses in Pasadena.
Nearly a dozen of these businesses, known as marijuana dispensaries, have popped up in the Pasadena over the past decade or so, prompting confusion by the public as their legality and long-winded legal battles with the City government which since 2005 has forbidden the operation of such dispensaries.
Now that Proposition 64 passed which allows adults aged 21 years or older to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes, some dispensaries are determined to stay put in a with hopes of being recognized as a legal business in a city that still does not officially allow marijuana dispensaries, nor formulated a city-wide plan for its use, possession or sale.
“There isn’t a grey area. The City’s zoning code has never allowed marijuana dispensaries within the City of Pasadena. The City Attorney’s office has been taking legal action against dispensaries and more recently, the City has engaged in code enforcement efforts in a multi-prong approach in attempting to shut the illegal marijuana dispensaries,” said City of Pasadena Code Compliance Manager Jon Pollard.
Shutting down dispensaries is not an easy task, officials explained.
There are nine illegal dispensaries currently operating in the City of Pasadena, according to Pollard.
“We don’t ‘raid’ dispensaries. We go through a legal process in an attempt to get them to comply with the City’s zoning code and that’s the step we’re taking currently,” Pollard explained.
“The City is not approaching it from a police perspective. The City is approaching it from a land use violation,” Pollard added.
Pasadena’s zoning code is a permissive zoning code, which means that the code sets forth a wide variety of permissible uses.
Any use that is not allowed is disallowed, according to Pollard.
“There is no zoning code designation for marijuana dispensary,” said Pollard.
If the sale of marijuana is illegal and dispensaries are not allowed to operate in Pasadena, how are dispensaries still up and running?
“It is a potential problem in that persons that open dispensaries may enter a lease agreement and describe the use as something that may be legal and then come into a lease space under a description that may be legal, but then commence activities that are illegal,” said Pollard.
In October 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act into law, putting in place a variety of safeguards within the cannabis business sector through a robust regulatory scheme.
The law took effect in January 2016 and now protects a local municipality’s right to govern with regards to allowing or not allowing commercial cannabis businesses.
The law says only those businesses that have obtained local permits or licenses may apply for a state-issued license with the California Department of Consumer Affairs and its Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.
“This is a real thing that’s happening and I’m excited for Pasadena. The time is now and I’m fighting for my place,” said Pasadena dispensary owner Shaun Szameit.
Szameit’s dispensary Golden State Collective operates out of a store front style building on Mentor Ave adjacent to the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
Szameit and his small team of six employees have been at their Pasadena location since 2006.
“You can call me quasi-legal or whatever, but I’m not super concerned. I don’t consider what I’m doing illegal and I’ve felt that I’ve followed the civil process correctly to kind of escape that and stay away from the illegal side,” explained Szameit.
Szameit is confident that his business practices will resonate with the public and hopefully set the standard for local young dispensaries.
“There’s a lot of people in this industry who are making a lot of money doing things in the unregulated marketplace. I have all my employees on payroll, I went through a successful audit, I pay sales tax, I pay state tax and I pay federal tax. I do everything that a legal business does and I’ve done that to show the kind of operator I am and to separate myself from the pack,” Szameit.
In November 2016, Proposition 64 passed which allowed adults aged 21 years or older to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes. The measure also created two new taxes, one levied on cultivation and the other on retail price.
Revenue from the taxes will be spent on drug research, treatment, and enforcement, health and safety grants addressing marijuana, youth programs, and preventing environmental damage resulting from illegal marijuana production.
“If a city is looking to make money and control homelessness, crime and etcetera, it just doesn’t seem like this is going to solve these issues. In the Los Angeles area in general it hasn’t exactly been a success story,” said Jeffrey Zinsmeister, Executive Vice President of anti-marijuana legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
“It’s not as if the medical marijuana regulatory scheme has been a smashing success even in the last couple years as the State has tried to overhaul some of those regulations. If the city LA is having that type of problem, a smaller city like Pasadena will have even fewer resources to throw at these issues,” said Zinsmeister.
A high percentage of marijuana businesses tend to concentrate in economically disadvantaged parts of cities, according to Zinmeister.
“We haven’t really seen a good track record in black market control by permitting stores. If anything, the presence of commercialized marijuana operations are intensifying the black markets,” said Jeff Zinsmeister.
“You’re basically adding an illegal profit motive into an addictive substance and it really changes things,” added Zinsmeister who referred to this as a “tobacco model”.
Even before the November election, Pasadena has been preparing for the local impact of the state marijuana laws, including the Planning Department recommending that an ordinance be adopted that would regulate the sale of recreational marijuana, similar to cigarette sales regulations.
The regulations would include permitting, and restrictions on the number and locations of dispensaries in the city. The staff recommended a limit of seven retail outlets and new rules outlawing the location of dispensaries near schools.
Other regulations would include background checks and fingerprinting of operators and owners of marijuana outlets, and the creation of new operating standards for marijuana retail outlets.
“The voters of California have spoken, and the US Attorney General has spoken with another voice, and we increasingly find ourselves in California at odds with the Federal government. But, Pasadena has never allowed marijuana dispensaries, not even medical marijuana, when it was legal,” Mayor Terry Tornek said at a community meeting last week.
Tornek said that the City now needs to develop some type of land use regulations that would permit the opening of legal dispensaries.
“We’re going to have to regulate them carefully, because I think they threaten to be like liquor stores, which have been nuisances in some locations,” he said. Tornek added that the process could be “controversial and troublesome, but that’s the reason for having these public meetings.”
Despite the long road ahead for City approved regulation, dispensary owners like Szameit are in it for the long haul.
“I’d be short changing myself to back off now. I’ve been embroiled in a big tug of war and I’m just trying to provide safe access [to marijuana]. I have a lot of Pasadena residents who are members and a lot of really ill people and people that utilize this medicine to function in their daily lives. I’m just trying to create really good jobs and I’m trying to help people,” said Szameit.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Local 770 announced in December of last year that it has organized cannabis dispensary employees at UFD Apothecary and the Golden State Collective.
UFCW Local 770 is already the largest union of dispensary employees in Southern California, and the addition of the two Pasadena shops marks the local union’s first successful organizing of dispensaries located beyond the City of Los Angeles.
“Our union’s mission is to ensure that all workers in the industries we represent have good, secure jobs that pay living wages, and enable our members to provide for themselves and their families,” said Rick Icaza, UFCW Local 770 President. “With the 2015 passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, and Proposition 64 last November, cannabis is positioned to become the fastest-growing segment of our union. Our victories in Pasadena mark a significant first step toward making that a reality.”
The employees are not yet union members, however, and cannot legally become members until the dispensaries are legally licensed, which they are not in Pasadena yet. At the moment, any dispensaries in Pasadena are not yet “legal” in the City.
According to Local 770 representative Rigo Valdez, the new state law requires that dispensaries with 20 or more employees have a labor agreement in place “with a bonafide labor organization” before being able to obtain a state license. Local 770 has been organizing employees in Los Angeles since 2011, he said.
The meetings set forth by the Planning and Community Development Department intend to actively engage the community to formulate draft regulations that truly reflect the community’s standards and values in regards to marijuana.
The draft regulations will pertain to the cultivation, processing and manufacture of marijuana products, and their retail sales and distribution.
All these will be presented to the City’s Planning Commission and later on to the City Council which are both expected to conduct more public hearings on them.
“I expect regulation to come very swiftly and I expect there to be a lot of fierce competition trying to come in with big money. It’s going to be an active industry in the City of Pasadena — definitely,” said Szameit.
Upcoming community meetings will be held on April 18 at the Pasadena City Hall Basement Training Room, and April 20 at the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian High School Auditorium at 2495 E. Mountain Street.
All of the meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Planning Director David Reyes said the contents of the meetings will be the same, so community members can just drop by at a date of their convenience and ask questions or submit input within the given time schedule.
For more information about the community meetings, visit www.cityofpasadena.net/Upcoming_Community_Divison_Meetings.