Westminster Council Explores Options for Medical Marijuana Shops

Westminster is the latest city to take up potential regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, holding a study session Wednesday night to explore its options in an evolving legal environment.

Although city officials are not aware of any medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating in the city, council members have expressed concerns about staying ahead of any changes in state law or any potential increase in dispensaries citywide, said city manager Eddie Manfro.

Westminster officials are looking to experiments in nearby cities like Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Anaheim, where medical marijuana dispensaries have proliferated in recent years.

According to Manfro, the city was also recently contacted by cannabis advocate Randall Longwith, who encouraged the city to be proactive about its policy toward marijuana.

The city does not necessarily need to act, unless voters come to the city with a enough signatures to hold a special election or if any changes in state marijuana policy occurs.

A ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana usage could also be placed on a statewide ballot in Nov. 2016.

A major concern among the council was enforcement of any regulations, given the lucrative nature of the medical marijuana industry. Many businesses make enough to pay steep city fines if they violate municipal regulations, said attorney Elena Gerli with the firm Jones & Mayer.

Gerli said even if cities manage to generate significant revenue from dispensaries, keeping up with illegal pot shops is also expensive.

“This is going to be the law of the land at some point,” said Police Chief Kevin Baker. “Enforcement is resource-intensive, it costs a lot of money.”

The city council is likely to hold another study session before it discusses the issue at an open city council meeting. The City Attorney’s Office will also prepare language for a potential ordinance, should the council decide to go that route.