California Supreme Court Drops Review of Long Beach Pot Ordinance

The city of Long Beach's bizarre and ill-fated foray into the medical marijuana business has now gone full circle. Yesterday, the California Supreme Court announced it was not going to review the city's appeal of an appellate court ruling that struck down the city's 2010 medical marijuana ordinance. The reason: the city has already invalidated that ordinance by passing a ban on medical marijuana, and the attorney who filed the original case arguing that the ordinance violated the federal government's prohibition against marijuana had withdrawn that argument.

If all that has your head spinning, it should, since when it comes to how Long Beach has handled medical marijuana policy, just about nothing makes sense. But the gist of it is that the city wasted a huge amount of money crafting an unfair ordinance that kept small-scale dispensaries from being able to compete with larger, more profit-oriented clubs that could afford the exorbitant fees–more than $15,000 just to apply for the lottery, and thousands more to pay for the equipment to grow marijuana, which the city required, or to keep moving locations every time the city added more zoning restrictions to the law.

For all that wasted cash, the city is now exactly where it started before it passed the ordinance, and on top of that, it's facing a massive budget shortfall, which is likely to cause salary slashing and layoffs at city hall, not to mention the closure of after-school park programs, libraries, and other important community services. If the city had done things differently, it could now be effectively taxing the dispensaries and filling city coffers instead of spending money it doesn't have raiding them and fighting lawsuits.

Matthew Pappas, the attorney who fought the pot ordinance on behalf of patients who belonged to clubs that the city targeted for violating it, has just written an open letter to city officials begging them to start over–and start starting over by firing City Attorney Robert Shannon. It's an angry and elegant letter, worth reading in full, so here goes:

August 22, 2012


The patients in Pack won at the appellate court level.  The excessive permit fee,  permitting, and permit lottery parts of 5.87 were deemed invalid by the appellate court.  It  was the City of Long Beach that asked the Supreme Court to review the Pack appellate  decision – not the patients.  When the City repealed Chapter 5.87, the issue the City had  spent huge amounts of money asking the Supreme Court to review became moot.  As a  result, the City's Petition was dismissed.  The patients won at the appellate court level  and they won today when the Supreme Court dismissed the City's petition for review.

Long Beach should have, following the decision by the appellate court in Pack, severed  the few provisions of Chapter 5.87 that were deemed illegal.  Instead, it asked for review  and then made moot its own case before the Supreme Court by repealing 5.87.  This is  further evidence of the incompetence in the City Attorney's office as well as the  outrageous behavior of council members who care more for themselves and their political  aspirations than the citizens they are supposed to be serving.

 How many of the absolutely horrible roads in Long Beach could have been repaired using  the millions of dollars the City has spent on just this issue?  How many school books  could have been purchased with the thousands of dollars spent by the City Attorney   trying to get the Supreme Court to grant review?  How many dollars will taxpayers have  to pay out because Shannon and the police engaged outrageous tactics raiding collectives,  destroying cameras, and injuring patients?

Why was all of that money spent when Long  Beach has a medical marijuana tax law — LBMC Chapter 3.80.260?  Under 3.80.260  (which taxes medical cannabis at 15%), Long Beach could be generating much needed  tax dollars for road repairs or schools or public safety.  Instead, it has spent money it  doesn't have making utterly incompetent decisions.  It has also exposed future millions  of tax dollars because of discriminatory actions it has taken against patients.  Most of LBMC Chapter 5.87 was effective and innovative regulation.  The patients in  Pack have never suggested otherwise.  To the contrary, the patients and advocates  supporting the Pack case have always said that most of 5.87 was a very good law.  It was  after Robert Shannon “took a knife” to the first version of 5.87 passed by the Council in  January, 2010 that the law became “warped” to include the provisions later stricken by  the appellate court.  The City has Robert Shannon to thank for those changes made  between January and March, 2010 that led to the bad parts of 5.87 and the subsequent  millions of dollars spent by the City.

At least 98% of Chapter 5.87 remained valid following the appellate court decision.  Only  a few tiny provisions and the outrageous permit lottery system conducted using a trash  can were stricken by the appellate court.  However, on October 6, 2011, Robert Shannon  stated to the press that, “you could read this decision (Pack)” as meaning the City could  completely ban all collectives.  It was clear from that moment on that his intent was to do  just that – ban all collectives.  He knew the appellate court did not require the City to ban.   He knew most of 5.87 remained valid.  Yet he decided to waste huge sums of taxpayer  money to create a ban of all collectives.  After all of the money spent as well as the illegal  raids and attacks, the Pack appellate court ruling is again binding on the City.

The City should reinstate 5.87.  When it does, the Pack decision will prevent it from  imposing improper, unfair, and illegal provisions that are, as former Long Beach  Councilwoman Tonia-Reyes Uranga said in March, 2010,  “pretty much a sham”  designed to close all collectives.

Robert Shannon advocated that the City petition the Ca. Supreme Court for review.  He  spent tons of money on that process.  He thereafter told the council it had to repeal 5.87  rather than just remove the few parts deemed invalid by the appellate court.  He also told  the City Council it had to ban all collectives and pass Chapter 5.89 as an emergency  measure.  Those decisions by Bob Shannon – the guy that wanted to spend the hundreds  of thousands of taxpayer dollars getting before the Supreme Court – are what made the  case moot.  By repealing 5.87, Shannon simply canceled out the Petition he'd filed.  And,  now that the Supreme Court has dismissed its review of Pack, the appellate court's order  that Long Beach pay the patients' costs will lead to thousands of additional dollars  taxpayers must come up with.  And why?  — because Bob Shannon hates medical  marijuana.

Robert Shannon, through the entire medical marijuana debacle in large-part caused by  him, has cost city taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.  Those tax dollars do not exist to ensure “cowboy Bob” wins the gunfight. Nor do they exist to protect Bob's  pride.  After all, he is paid more than $250,000.00 per year to work for Long Beach. Mr.  Shannon needs to resign or Long Beach voters need to recall and replace him. They also  need to seriously weigh whether the “lobbyist-happy” city council members and Mayor,  all of whom act like royalty rather than serve their constituents, should remain in office. The entire city government needs to be shaken-up because they are supposed to serve  Long Beach citizens – not the other way around.

Matt Pappas

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