Burbank City Council to consider pot business ban

The cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana for commercial purposes is not explicitly banned in Burbank, but the City Council plans to consider a proposal Tuesday that would formally prohibit all business-related activities involving the drug.

The proposed regulations would bar medical marijuana delivery services and dispensaries from operating inside city limits.

While not currently banned, medical marijuana-related land uses are not authorized in existing zoning codes.

However, a recently approved state law aimed at regulating medical marijuana requires cities to make such restrictions explicit, if they want to keep them in place.

California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which became law on New Year’s Day, contains a provision that gives cities until March 1 to enact ordinances banning or regulating marijuana cultivation — or forfeit the authority to do so.

The act “will bring a multibillion-dollar industry that has grown up largely in the shadows into the light,” Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), one of the legislation’s authors, wrote in an open letter to city and county governments.

However, the act’s March 1 deadline, which has left cities “scrambling” to enact new ordinances, was a drafting error, Wood said.

He said he intends to introduce urgency legislation this month to remove the deadline “and maintain a local jurisdiction’s ability to create their own regulations.”

The urgency legislation would become effective upon receiving the governor’s signature. A spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times last month that Gov. Jerry Brown supports the legislative fix, which an official with California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also welcomed.

In the meantime, the proposed Burbank ordinance would conform its definition of “commercial cannabis activity” to the new state law’s definition, which lists cultivating, possessing, manufacturing, processing, storing, laboratory testing, labeling, transporting, distributing and selling medical marijuana.

The local measure, which was recommended for approval last month by the Burbank Planning Board, would ban all marijuana activities under that definition and all noncommercial marijuana cultivation as well, according to a city staff report.

The ordinance would amend three areas of the city’s code that apply to businesses and licenses, police and public safety and land use, said Daniel Villa, assistant planner, during the Planning Board hearing on Dec. 14.

This week, Villa clarified that a patient with a medical marijuana card or their primary caregiver who purchased pot at a dispensary outside the city would still be allowed to bring it back into Burbank for personal use, but not for cultivation or commercial activities.

Among the reasons for supporting the ban, according to the city report, is the fact federal law still prohibits cultivation, possession, distribution and marijuana use, even though medical marijuana use was legalized in California in 1996.

Other reasons included the strong odor marijuana plants produce when they flower, the potential for increased fire risk, due to high-wattage indoor grow lights, and the “cash only” nature of many medical marijuana dispensaries, making the businesses and patients “the target of a disproportionate amount of violent crime.”

There was hardly any discussion among the four Planning Board members — Diane Eaton, Apraham Atteukenian, Undine Petrulis and Christopher Rizzotti — who all said they concurred with the city staff’s recommendation in favor of the proposed ordinance before voting to recommend the City Council adopt the measure.

No members of the public spoke at the hearing for or against the measure. Rizzotti said he received one email — in support of the ban — on the matter.

The ordinance would not change the legal status of those activities in Burbank, according to a city staff report, but makes an “affirmative ban of cannabis activity of all types ... to prevent ambiguity.”

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Chad Garland, chad.garland@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

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