Just over two years after a large majority of Laguna Beach residents voted against having medical marijuana dispensaries in town, the city Planning Commission on Wednesday night approved a store that plans to sell products containing cannabidiol oil, a non-psychoactive component of industrial hemp, a form of the cannabis plant.
On a 4-1 vote, with member Anne Johnson dissenting, the commission approved a conditional use permit for the first location of Lagona Apothecary at 206 N. Coast Hwy. The business plans to sell skincare products, soaps and bath bombs containing CBD.
At least half the store’s merchandise will be devoted to owner Patrick Murphy’s private label, Lagona Apothecary. The name is an allusion to a post office founded in Laguna Beach in 1887, according to Murphy’s application.
The store will not carry food items containing CBD or smoking paraphernalia such as vapes or products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, the component of cannabis that produces a high.
Murphy said the minimum age for purchasing in his store is 18, though he is willing to raise it to 21.
Commissioner Ken Sadler emphasized the difference between marijuana dispensaries and a CBD shop. He noted that while there are no physical dispensaries in Laguna Beach, there are marijuana delivery services such as Bud Man.
“People are conflating this with marijuana, and that’s just not the case,” Sadler said. “If they want to get high, they’re going to go to a marijuana dispensary and get marijuana. … I look at this almost as a nutritional supplement.”
Murphy said he has used CBD “to help me with my own arthritis and it has prevented me from having a hip replacement. As long as I keep my weight down and continue my treatments, I feel I may be able to avoid the surgery altogether.”
“I’m here tonight because I like Laguna Beach,” he said. “I enjoy the atmosphere coming here. I believe there’s some magic here.”
In 2016, 70% of local voters rejected Measure KK, which would have repealed the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries.
The following year, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning commercial cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational cannabis.
Johnson said she voted against the business Wednesday because of the ballot measure vote and because she felt Murphy didn’t present enough evidence of the product’s quality.
“I’m more interested in what our community indicated in Measure [KK] and what’s been presented tonight,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we need this in our town at this time.”
Commission Chairman Roger McErlane said the permit approval can be appealed to the City Council within two weeks.
A few residents joined Johnson in speaking against the shop.
“The citizens of Laguna Beach voted loud and clear that we don’t want marijuana products of any kind,” said Jon Conk, whose wife, Kelly, brought letters signed from several other residents who oppose the store.
Another cause for concern among residents was a lack of federal regulation on products containing CBD.
“There’s so much we don’t know and there’s so little research that’s been done,” resident John Thomas said. “The entire field is evolving so quickly. The lack of knowledge is enormous.”
Murphy said that in addition to the testing done at every step of the production process, he would be willing to have independent inspectors regularly review his merchandise and submit the results to the city.
Karen Levin, an activist and a friend of Murphy’s, said: “Everything about CBD, although it is derived from the hemp plant, is different than THC. It is infuriating that in 2019 … it is still being thrown around as marijuana.
“Putting a store in, a small store that is well-run that the person is passionate about helping people … that’s what you’ll be giving to the community.”
Other speakers supporting Murphy’s shop cited medical benefits of CBD oil. Studies have suggested it can be an effective treatment for some health conditions, such as childhood epilepsy.
Sadler told of his sister’s neighbor, a child who suffered from such severe epilepsy that she experienced back-to-back seizures. Her parents eventually found out about CBD oil and began treating her with it, he said, and her seizures were reduced to only a few per year.
“Talk about having a direct medical benefit,” Sadler said.
Commissioner Jorg Dubin said he is a fan of CBD oil because he knows it can help with ailments including sleep disorders, menopause, arthritis and back and joint pain.
“It is more like our herbal supplement, not unlike what you could go to Whole Foods and look at various vitamins and all kinds of things there,” Dubin said.
In other business Wednesday, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a request from Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl to use the City Hall lawn for a three-year art installation.
The artwork has not been decided and will be reviewed by a temporary arts panel consisting of representatives of the City Council, Planning Commission, Public Works Department, Community Development Department, Cultural Arts Department and Police Department. Poeschl said there is an opportunity to receive artwork on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“There is a diversity of sites and diversity of experiences,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
The commission also unanimously approved a private studio for a teacher who specializes in piano, French, dance, painting and digital art.
Sounds of Color will be above the Subway restaurant at 1350 S. Coast Hwy.