‘Waiting and learning’ about marijuana

Signal Hill’s cannabis-regulation subcommittee shares findings at public meeting.

Signal+Hill+City+Manager+Charlie+Honeycutt+%28right%29+addresses+the+public+at+a+May+22+community+meeting+at+Signal+Hill+City+Hall+on+cannabis+regulation+in+the+city.+
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‘Waiting and learning’ about marijuana

Signal Hill City Manager Charlie Honeycutt (right) addresses the public at a May 22 community meeting at Signal Hill City Hall on cannabis regulation in the city.

Signal Hill City Manager Charlie Honeycutt (right) addresses the public at a May 22 community meeting at Signal Hill City Hall on cannabis regulation in the city.

Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

Signal Hill City Manager Charlie Honeycutt (right) addresses the public at a May 22 community meeting at Signal Hill City Hall on cannabis regulation in the city.

Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

Signal Hill City Manager Charlie Honeycutt (right) addresses the public at a May 22 community meeting at Signal Hill City Hall on cannabis regulation in the city.

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At a public meeting Wednesday, May 22, a Signal Hill subcommittee on cannabis regulation presented its findings after 18 months of a “wait and learn” policy on whether to allow marijuana facilities in the city.

City Manager Charlie Honeycutt said that, beginning in July, the city council will consider all the information the subcommittee has gathered– along with public opinion– in deciding on the extent to which the city will regulate marijuana facilities, if at all.

The city currently prohibits all marijuana-related activity permitted under state Proposition 64– the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, passed in 2016– except for allowing personal cultivation of up to six plants and mobile delivery.

Chris Neumeyer, an attorney working with the city from Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, gave a synopsis of national, state and local marijuana-regulation policies going back to 1970, when marijuana was listed as a controlled substance by the federal government.

In recent years, however, 33 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and 10 for recreational or “adult” use, including California, which now has a Bureau of Cannabis Control, Neumeyer said.

“Signal Hill has the power to decide what it’s going to do with local regulation,” he said.

The 2.2 square-mile city of Signal Hill is surrounded by Long Beach, which currently allows and regulates all types of marijuana-industry activity– from cultivation to product manufacturing, testing, distribution and retailing, Honeycutt said.

A map displayed at a May 22 community meeting on Signal Hill marijuana regulation showing approved Long Beach marijuana dispensaries located close to Signal Hill (center of map).

Honeycutt added that Long Beach’s cost to administer its 244 current or pending facilities is $3.5 million across all departments, partially covered by industry taxation that generated $1.6 million last year. He said that Long Beach estimates $4.2 million in revenue this year.

Three representatives of the Long Beach Collective Association (LBCA)– a nonprofit trade association of cannabis businesses– said that the industry is taxed too highly, leading to black-market activities that undercut the city’s revenue.

“Don’t chase the money,” LBCA Executive Director Steve Neal said. “The taxing […] is not conducive to operators being successful.”

Because of Signal Hill’s proximity to many Long Beach medical- and recreational-marijuana dispensaries, the city council had voted to “wait and learn” following the passage of Prop 64 to observe the emerging industry before deciding whether to allow such facilities in the city, Honeycutt said.

Deputy City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn said the five-member Prop-64 subcommittee assigned to survey the industry consisted of herself, Honeycutt, Community Development Director Scott Charney, Councilmember Edward Wilson and Mayor Lori Woods.

She said the committee attended workshops and toured eight facilities, including a 14,000-square-foot cultivation factory in Adelanto, Calif., as well as dispensaries, edibles manufacturing-plants and testing facility in Long Beach.

Shin-Heydorn described the hydroponic cultivation facility as environmentally “quite green.” She said the testing facility was reminiscent of a high-school chemistry lab but with highly-trained employees, and she described how an edibles plant infuses its caramel candy with THC.

Members of the Long Beach Collective Association, a cannabis-trade group, speak during a May 22 community meeting on Signal Hill marijuana regulation. Pictured, from left: Steven Contreras, Steve Neal and Pam Chotiswatdi.

During the second half of the two-hour meeting, Honeycutt invited the attending public of about 50– including several city commissioners– to ask questions.

Some asked about crime associated with dispensaries. Neumeyer said that while some places, like Colorado, have reported an increase in crime, the city of Los Angeles actually saw a decrease in crime surrounding dispensaries because of the presence of their armed security and video cameras.

Others questioned how the cash-based industry operated, since most national banks will not accept its money because marijuana activity is still illegal on a federal level.

“So the armored truck comes, takes all the money– whose mattress do they put it in?” Neena Strichart, Signal Tribune publisher, asked. “Where does it go?”

Neumeyer said that some small credit unions take deposits. Gene Rotondo, a local insurance specialist and LBCA member, said that some businesses manage using money orders and credit-card processing. He added that though the industry is cash-based, it uses strict accounting because of the tax policies.

Others in the audience, including public officials Carmen Brooks and Caroline Kiss-Lee, said that cannabis should be considered as a pain reliever, not just a business prospect.

“Cannabis is mainstream,” Brooks said. “It should be the responsibility of the city to help educate our citizens about the health benefits.”

A second community meeting on cannabis will take place in conjunction with the Signal Hill Planning Commission session on June 18 at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.