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Laguna Beach Ban Gets Slammed By State Coastal Agency

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By Paul Rogers

Unless you live or do business in a beach community, you might be unaware of the California Coastal Commission. And even if you are familiar with this state agency and its mission (to “protect, conserve, restore and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.”), you’d probably still be surprised to learn that it’s gotten involved in a spat over a local city’s dispensary ban.

It goes like this: Laguna Beach included a dispensary ban as part of its zoning code in 2009. As the Coastal Commission “plans and regulates the use of land and water in the coastal zone” (according to its website), and parts of Laguna Beach fall into this zone, it technically had the ability to ratify or deny this ordinance.

However, as the dispensary ban seemed unrelated to coastal access issues–the commission’s chief concern–local government figured that the agency’s vote on the ban in January would be a formality. Wrong! Six of the coastal commissioners voted against the ban, in effect obliging Laguna Beach to regulate dispensaries rather than forbid them altogether.

“We get this from time to time, where cities want to do something that’s a social issue and they’ll bring it to us to either confirm it or deny it,” explain Commissioner Mark W. Stone. “And it’s not even something we should be looking at. It’s something that should be addressed better in their own communities.”

Only this time a funny thing happened: when this procedural anomaly dropped the Laguna Beach dispensary ban into the Coastal Commission’s lap, at least some of its commissioners–Stone included–realized that they had an opinion on the matter and wanted to formally express it.

“We do in fact have the ability to weigh in on this and have the obligation to look at and analyze this,” Stone continues. “And because we have this obligation, there has to be some meaning behind us having that obligation.”

This almost sounds like forming an opinion for the sake of forming an opinion, but for Stone there’s a genuine consistency issue between Laguna Beach’s medical cannabis issues and those of other Cali coastal cities.

“In a way it is a broader resource issue, a regional/statewide issue, because if each jurisdiction is not taking this seriously and finding a way, a place to allow cannabis dispensaries, then they are going to be forced out into those jurisdictions which either haven’t done the zoning yet or are allowing dispensaries to some extent,” Stone says. “In a way they’re not looking out for their own patients who have a legitimate need for medical marijuana–they’re putting the burden on other coastal cities and that is more of a statewide interest.”

Only the burden might well not be place on other coastal cities–an inland community like Laguna Niguel, for example, is closer to Laguna Beach than its seaside neighbors like Dana Point and Newport Beach. So while
Stone’s stance is admirable and the Laguna Beach case might well have statewide implications, the real-world necessity for the Coastal Commission to get actively involved remains debatable. “I don’t feel I could be responsible for coastal issues . . . and just say ‘I disagree with this, but there’s nothing I can do,” says Stone. “That just didn’t wash.”

In theory, Laguna Beach could become a “divided city” with dispensaries allowed only in its coastal zone. It depends on how the city managers respond to the Coastal Commissioners’ surprise vote. They could find alternatives to an outright dispensary ban (such as regulations) or “they could sue us; they could just ignore us–at some potential peril,” says Stone.

Laguna Beach patients with concerns about access to their medicine can certainly make their voices heard. “Their best move would be to continue to advocate before the city and say that there’s at least one jurisdiction out there, the Coastal Commission, which thinks it’s irresponsible of you to ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright,” Stone advises. “So let’s come up with a better ordinance to appropriately regulate them.”

Article from http://freeculturemag.com/

http://freeculturemag.com/2011/03/news/the-coast-isn%E2%80%99t-clear/4532

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