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State legalization of recreational marijuana brings no immediate change on dispensaries in Newport

Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis, seen in this file photo, says Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana possession and use for adults 21 and older in California, will make for “an interesting year” in Newport.

Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis, seen in this file photo, says Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana possession and use for adults 21 and older in California, will make for “an interesting year” in Newport.

(File photo)

Marijuana dispensaries and growing and delivery remain illegal in Newport Beach, but residents can smoke it in their homes under California law.

The possible effects of the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana use, which voters approved in November, were the focus of discussion Wednesday night at a Speak Up Newport event where Police Chief Jon Lewis and City Attorney Aaron Harp answered questions in front of more than 50 Newport Beach residents and officials.

Many who attended expressed confusion over what changed under Proposition 64 and how the law might affect Newport Beach’s ban on brick-and-mortar pot dispensaries.

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In 2015, the City Council banned the cultivation, processing, distribution and delivery of cannabis in the city. No marijuana dispensaries currently operate in Newport Beach, according to city officials.

“I don’t see it being an issue here right now,” Harp said when asked about dispensaries possibly becoming legal in town.

Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana possession and use for adults 21 and older in California. Under the law, up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana are legal to possess, and an individual can grow up to six plants at home. However, smoking within 1,000 feet of a school or park is illegal.

“It remains to be seen what the total impacts are going to be,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

Last year, Newport Beach police sent two officers to Colorado — where recreational marijuana use has been legal since 2014 — to gather information. They found that cases of children using marijuana products and driving under the influence increased, Lewis said, pointing to data from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a task force that tracks the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado.

Data published in September 2015 said drug-related suspensions and expulsions increased 40% between the 2008-09 school year and the 2013-14 school year. The vast majority, the report said, were for marijuana violations.

“This indicates that we can probably expect some student use,” Lewis said.

The report also concluded there was a 32% increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in 2014, the year retail marijuana stores began operating.

Some supporters of recreational marijuana use have disputed some of the report’s findings.

But Lewis said the report provides a glimpse into how increased marijuana use could create challenges locally.

Newport Beach police will continue to focus on enforcing laws against drugged driving by using field sobriety tests similar to those used to indicate alcohol intoxication, he said.

There is no blood or breath test available that can show how much THC — the main intoxicant in marijuana — is in someone’s system at any given time. That means officers will have to be especially diligent during field sobriety tests to ensure they have enough evidence to prove that someone was driving under the influence, Lewis said.

“This is going to be a learning process for us in law enforcement,” he said.

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Hannah Fry, hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


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