Council changes marijuana dispensary ban

COSTA MESA — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to amend its 2005 ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, agreeing not to arrest and seek prosecution against those running such businesses in the city as long as three or more people are not involved in growing and distributing the drug.

The amendment prohibits those who are not authorized under state law to grow and distribute marijuana from operating dispensaries and also declares off-site growing unlawful.

The change in the city's stance came as a result of a recent court ruling involving Anaheim that cast doubt on whether municipalities can use the federal government's stance against marijuana to ban dispensaries. Costa Mesa used the court's non-binding portion of the analysis to justify going after operations involving three or more individuals.

While the city would still consider operating dispensaries as a misdemeanor and issue citations, the new ordinance will not criminally prosecute any violators.

Even before passage of the new law, Costa Mesa hadn't been prosecuting violators.

Council candidate Sue Lester, who operates a medical marijuana dispensary, thanked the council for what she said was a first step toward a better solution to helping those in need of the drug.

"I would urge the council to not stop with this and continue to educate yourselves, and really look into the value of medical marijuana for people with legitimate illnesses," she said.

In other city business, the council voted 4 to 1 to uphold the Planning Commission's vote to revoke Garcia's Recycling center's permit. Councilwoman Katrina Foley dissented.

At lease a dozen residents spoke against keeping the center open, citing loud noise, bad odor and the type of customers who use the center.

While she agreed with residents' concerns, Foley wanted to give the business a six-month window to help the owner, who has operated in the city for 20 years, time to find a new space and relocate.

The council also voted unanimously to increase the Business Improvement Area tax by 1%, making it a total of 3%.

The tax would be added to overnight hotel guests' bills, and would go toward the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau, which works to attract tourism to the city.

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