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Published on June 21st, 2012 | by RLn Staff

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Medical Pot, Real Estate Made for Rowdy LB City Council Meeting

By Kevin Walker, Long Beach Reporter

Real estate agents and medical marijuana proponents packed the Long Beach City Council chamber for the June 19 session that saw hoots, hollers, and one member of the public escorted out by Long Beach police. Council members Dee Andrews and Robert Garcia were absent from the session.

The Long Beach City Council voted 6-0,  to have the city manager determine the feasibility of abolishing the city’s $200 business license fee paid annually by Long Beach realtors.

The proposal, sponsored 3rd District Councilman Gary Delong, would replace the fee with a charge of $25 per employee to the Real Estate broker employing the agent.

Prior the vote, Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske of the 4th District recused herself, citing a conflict of interest and requested that an item she introduced with similar language be removed from the agenda.

“I’m withdrawing this item and will need to recuse myself from item 16 [Delong’s proposal] because both contain a reference to real estate agents and my partner is [a] realtor… therefore I cannot participate,” said Schipske before exiting the council chambers.

Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske

Local realtors speaking during the public comment period voiced strong support for the proposal arguing that the $200 fee places an unnecessary burden on their business and is meant only for independent contractors, which they claim they are not.

“We do not consider our agents as independent contractors,” said Phil Jones, who identified himself as a managing partner of a Long Beach brokerage. “Unlike true independent contractors, real estate agents can only work for one broker, if the agent leaves the firm for any reason that open book of business remains the property of the broker.”

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich of the 8th district questioned the wisdom of the eliminating the license fee paid by realtors.

“I’ve only heard one side and that’s from the realtors,”  Gabelich said. “Several years ago what came before us…was a concern by the manicurists in town, the owners of the hair salons.  Those folks that make very little money, especially comparatively speaking, had a to pay a $165 business license each and every year … yet, we kept that on the books… I think there has to be equity across the board.”

The second issue to arouse public passion was the filing of a report to the council regarding 18 medical marijuana dispensaries that were allowed a 6 month exemption to continue operations following a ban passed by the council in February.

Mayor Bob Foster was quick to make clear that the purpose of the report was not to address the possible extension of the exemption given to the dispensaries and was intended as an update from the Chief of Police and the City Attorney regarding the ban’s enforcement.

The discussion, however, rapidly evolved into a showcase of the competing opinions about the role of medical marijuana in the City of Long Beach.

“It’s imperative that law enforcement treat all people equally, the current situation of exemptions from the ban sets up a perceived disparity,” said Long Beach police chief Jim McDonnell. “There is no other crime category where one group is held accountable and another considered exempt for the same criminal activity.”

He went on to argue that the stores functioned as magnets for crime in Long Beach, stating that Long Beach Police had responded to more than 1,200 service calls for incidents related to the dispensaries including robberies and murders.

Councilwoman Gabelich expressed concern about the ramifications of a complete ban and what it would mean for those legitimately using marijuana for medical reasons.

“Are some of them misused? Absolutely,” Gabelich said. “But I also know that there are people who really do need it [marijuana], do benefit from it, and do make that choice to use it medically.”

She also voiced concerned that the ban would merely push sales of marijuana back onto the street.

Long Beach Collective Association representative Carl Kemp addressed the City Council during the public comment period on behalf of 10 marijuana dispensaries operating in the city and stressed his members adherence to state law. He also requested the city allow their continued operation until the California Supreme Court reaches a decision on the case Ryan Pack V. The Los Angeles Superior Court.

His comments led to a heated exchange with Mayor Foster who asked the LBCA representative how much he was being paid by the organization and expressed doubt about the nonprofit nature of the marijuana collectives.

“I don’t know how you could have sat through the last meeting when a ban was put forward and somehow believe you were going to operate until the court decided,” Foster said.

Other members of the public reminded the council of the medical issues, that for some, make medical marijuana a necessity. Donald Marshall addressing council members from his wheelchair described the convenience and safety the dispensaries represent and pleaded that at least some remain open.

“I just ask that maybe we could consider trying to find some way to work as a unit on this,” he said. “ I mean arguing, bickering, smart remarks just not going to get it. I’m not looking for applause, I’m in a state of begging right now. Maybe the ones who need it can… get it without going to the street. Give me a safe avenue.”

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