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Laguna Woods City Council approves cannabis dispensary ordinance

The ordinance on business regulations goes to a second reading, scheduled for the council’s regular meeting in August

Laguna Woods is closer to a possible legal marijuana dispensary opening within its borders.

The City Council on July 19 approved the first reading of an ordinance on business regulations for cannabis storefront retailers in the city. Voting for the ordinance were Mayor Cynthia Conners and councilmembers Shari Horne and Annie McCary, and voting against were councilmembers Carol Moore and Noel Hatch.

The ordinance now goes to a second reading, scheduled for the council’s regular meeting in August.

Before the vote, the council noted that cannabis remains illegal under federal law, being classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, marijuana was legalized under state law once California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016.

The council also noted that the cities of Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Stanton allow cannabis storefront retailers, but the Orange County Sheriff’s Department remains opposed to such businesses.

Also brought up was the 10% tax that the city would impose on cannabis sales (on top of a 15% state excise tax). The city’s tax was set due to potentially increased law enforcement costs, the council said.

Councilmembers heard from nearly 20 people at their meeting, around half of them Laguna Woods Village residents and the rest cannabis consultants and advocates and representatives of marijuana dispensaries outside Laguna Woods.

Village residents opposed to a cannabis dispensary in the city expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic, security issues and general disturbance to the peace of a retirement community.

They noted that Village cannabis users have other options: the dispensaries in the three other cities, including a free shuttle service to a dispensary in Santa Ana, along with delivery services.

“I voiced my concerns for the safety of our residents with what I see will cause increased traffic and unknown entities coming to our retirement village from all parts of the county, as well as concern for our villagers driving under the influence,” Village resident Pat Micone said in an email after the meeting.

She added that she hopes the City Council will delay a decision to allow all Village residents to weigh in on the matter.

Kathryn Freshley said she believes a dispensary in Laguna Woods would be “providing convenience for the few with the risk of security for the many.”

She said she has been observing the comings and goings at a dispensary that has been operating in Laguna Woods without city approval for about a month.

“I have watched that shop for several evenings and afternoons over the past month,” she said, noting that mostly men ages 20 to 40 seem to be visiting. “I have never seen a senior go into the shop.”

Freshley added, “Do we want to be the only legal outlet in South Orange County? Why aren’t Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo and Dana Point authorizing legal marijuana outlets in their cities? They have the younger generation who are the most users.”

Village residents in favor of a cannabis dispensary in Laguna Woods emphasized that, for many, marijuana is a medicinal aid that helps alleviate pain. Some said their chronic pain makes the long drive to Santa Ana, or even sitting on a bus for the ride to the city, unbearable. Delivery is not an option, they said, because there are too many unknowns.

“Many residents are intimidated by the drive (to other dispensaries), being in a strange place and dealing with young people who don’t understand the needs and mindset of seniors,” Virginia Rettig said in an email. “The whole process can be exhausting, mentally and physically.”

A Laguna Woods dispensary “hopefully would have bud tenders that would be older and experienced in geriatric needs and medical conditions,” she added.

Residents “should not have to travel to a Santa Ana dispensary to buy what they need and want,” said Jonathan Adler. Instead, he said, residents should be able to buy cannabis products “conveniently and safely, near home, in our city.”

Councilmembers Horne and Moore weighed in on their reasons for voting the way they did.

“It is something our residents want and have voted for repeatedly,” Horne said. “They get great benefit from it for lots of issues: relaxation, nausea, better appetite and pain control.”

Moore said that although she is OK with people using cannabis, she noted in an email “two very troubling aspects”: She believes the 10% tax is too high and the draft ordinance gives preferential treatment to one outfit that hopes to set up shop in Laguna Woods.


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