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These are separate excerpts from the article ¨Placemaking for pot smoking¨, by Josh Stephens, for Planetizen. To make us think how far planning issues sometimes are beyond our imagination.
Make no mistake: 74 years after the film Reefer Madness cemented the connection between deviance and getting high, medical marijuana is already quasi-legal. But if the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 passes November 2, it would strip away the medicinal veneer of cannabis use and simply make it legal for anyone over age 21 to possess, grow, and use marijuana, hemp, and related products. The measure, which has been officially approved for the ballot after backers submitted the more than 400,000 required signatures, would also authorize the state to impose taxes on the sale and cultivation thereof, and would give local jurisdictions broad leeway to permit, prohibit – and tax – its cultivation and sale.
After California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the drug-cum-medicine gained further legitimacy in fits and starts until, in 2008, California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines confirming that marijuana collectives could in fact operate as retail establishments as long as they served only members and did not reap inordinate profits. This announcement, coupled with the proliferation of "prescriptions" that recommended the use of marijuana for everything from anorexia to anxiety to insomnia, the marijuana "dispensary" was born. Some cities, however, were not prepared to regulate a nonexistent land use.
In Los Angeles, the regulatory void was filled by equal parts compassion and profiteering. It's estimated that up to 800 dispensaries proliferated throughout the city.
Los Angeles' quick rise to the position of retail marijuana capital of the world forced the city council to play catch-up earlier this year and pass an ordinance that would close roughly 600 rouge dispensaries and place complex restrictions on those that were allowed to remain.
City planners estimated the appropriate number of dispensaries per each of the city's 35 planning areas and came up with between two and six, depending on the respective areas' populations. Dispensaries may not locate near residential areas or places where children congregate, and they may be no less than 1,000 feet from each other. They must have controlled entries and cannot use flashy signage or advertising.
"The recommendations we came up with ensured that there would be potentially medical marijuana collectives located within all the community plan areas in the city," said Alan Bell, senior planner at the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, who led the crafting of the marijuana ordinance. "We'd limit the number so that we could have a limited number that we could enforce and monitor."
Cities that choose to both regulate marijuana sales and cultivation without stifling them need not re-invent their land-use laws but can instead follow the model of bars and restaurants. Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who authored Measure F, said that Oakland’s embrace of marijuana relies in part on the issuance of special activity permits, which, she said, give the city the oversight it needs to ensure that the businesses are conforming to the city's regulations. "Which is different from something that’s handled as permit that comes with the land, which can often be in perpetuity," said Kaplan. "That has allowed us to have a level of rigorous oversight because the facilities have to come in every year for a hearing where there’s an opportunity to take that permit away."
In Los Angeles, once the City Council and City Attorney determined their optimal number of medical dispensaries the task fell to the Department of City Planning was directed to keep dispensaries away from residential areas and places where children congregate, including school and playgrounds. But, fearing that these restrictions would lead to the clustering of stores into cannabis ghettos, city planners have also required that they be spaced at least 1,000 feet apart, and they have prescribed a limited number of dispensaries per each of the city's 35 plan areas, according to the plan areas' respective populations. While this approach reflects the troublesome side of marijuana, some believe that it stigmatizes what is, ostensibly, a legitimate medicine.
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