Hermosa Council forms committee to study cannabis drive

Catalyst Cannabis Co. CEO Elliott Lewis (right), and parent company co-founder, and attorney Damian A. Martin are spearheading efforts to legalize retail sales of cannabis in the three Beach Cities and El Segundo. Photo by Nathan Avila.

by Dan Blackburn

Hermosa Beach city officials may respond to resident Colton Chacker’s  attempt to authorize two marijuana sales outlets by crafting a competing ordinance “more beneficial” to the community.

The City Council spent more than two hours Tuesday discussing the issue.

In the end, the council voted 4-1 to direct staff to form an “advisory committee.” Councilman Justin Massey said the committee would be assigned “the task of advising us on the potential for a ballot measure for our consideration.” That committee will be selected by City Manager Suja Lowenthal and will be given two months to draft proposals for council’s consideration.

Mayor Mike Detoy cast the lone dissenting vote, suggesting that the action “might handcuff” the council in the future.

Massey argued that local pot sales are “probably inevitable” and that the city should take steps to assure its residents’ wishes and needs are met. 

“The committee would be subject to the Brown Act and would have representation from public safety. the school districts, and members of our community on both sides of the issue,” Massey said.

A proposal from the committee could be placed on the ballot as an alternative to the Chacker initiative.

Cannabis sales in Hermosa Beach have been prohibited since 2017. Although California voters approved in 1996 a measure, Proposition 215, to allow “compassionate” sales of cannabis, cities and other entities have been allowed to prohibit such sales, based on zoning and other local requirements.

Last month, Chacker provided the city with a “notice of intent” to circulate an initiative petition seeking signatures to legal retail cannabis sales, now an ongoing effort. The initiative is being funded by the Economic Development Reform Coalition of Southern California, which has similar initiative proposals in neighboring Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo. The Hermosa initiative would require verified signatures from 10 percent of registered voters, or approximately 1,530 residents, to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Council members worried that Chacker’s plan ignored many of officials’ perceived requirements, including taxation of cannabis sales. Other cities that allow retail cannabis sales have tax rates ranging from “0 to 20 percent,” according to City Attorney Michael Jenkins.

If the city wanted to impose tax on pot sales in the event of a Chacker success, a separate initiative would need to be approved by voters, Jenkins said.

Councilman Raymond Jackson wanted it known that Chacker’s initiative “is not the city’s doing.”

With competing ordinances on the ballot, voters could approve both, just one, or neither. If both were approved, the initiative with the most votes would prevail, Jenkins said.

“This (Chacker) initiative was written in a way… it is designed to protect the permittee and the permittees’ ability to operate without interference by the city — with the exception of violations of law or violations of the ordinance itself,“ he said.

Several residents told the council of their general disapproval of marijuana and urged officials to keep the current prohibition in place.

Heidi Swan told the council, “The city of Hermosa Beach is 1.4 square miles, so it’s a very short drive if you want to go outside our city to get products. Obviously, this initiative is not about access. There are many of us who feel there is too much access to marijuana and other drugs and that access is causing or exacerbating many of our problems today. So, if it’s not really about access, then what is this initiative about? It looks like it’s about normalizing marijuana in Hermosa Beach. It says we as a city are cool with dealing drugs.”

Police Chief Paul LeBaron outlined what he said are “common” criminal issues facing law enforcement in areas where cannabis is legally sold.

Councilmember Mary Campbell took issue with some speakers’ views.

“From the comments tonight,” she said, “it seems there is a lack of understanding about what we’re talking about tonight, and what it means. If the council were to take no action, and didn’t educate the community,” the results would be unacceptable. She said the council should consider “creating an opposing or an alternative ordinance to the one that is very likely to be on a ballot in front of our voters.”

Massey noted that delivery of cannabis products into the city, although illegal, is occurring presently, and as a result the city is losing that tax revenue.

“We can more safely meet that demand and capture revenue in Hermosa Beach with a well-crafted ordinance. And when I say well crafted, I mean regulated and no signage on either the building or delivery vehicles,” Massey said.

Council members can support or oppose either ballot proposal, either as a body or individually, Jenkins said. “Then the voters can decide.” ER

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