Planning Commission Rehashes Malibu Pot Shops

Malibu City Hall

The Planning Commission voted 3-2 this week to deny an application for a new pot shop to open along Pacific Coast Highway on a lot shared with Colony House Liquor, following a discussion that quickly became more about semantics than policy.

The marijuana dispensary’s application for a conditional use permit first made the agenda on Nov. 17, when commissioners voted to send it back to staff for a clarification on city policy. This was because of a single line in the Malibu Municipal Code (MMC), which reads “there shall be no on-site sales of alcohol or tobacco, and no on-site consumption of food, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.” 

Commissioners sought legal counsel on the meaning of “on-site” as it appears in the MMC, and the city attorney’s office provided a document to city staff.

“The memorandum prepared by the city attorney’s office […] provided that a plain reading of the municipal code [leads] to the conclusion that on-site means on the lot on which the conditional use operates,” stated associate planner Stephanie Hawner. “Therefore, the condition that there should be no on-site sales of alcohol or tobacco, and no on-site consumption of food, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, prohibits a medical marijuana dispensary from cohabitating on the same lot with a liquor store or a restaurant.”

Commissioner Mikke Pierson, in response to this interpretation, asked whether that would also prevent restaurants from opening in lots with existing pot shops in the future, which attorneys confirmed. 

“My only comment is, wow, that’s a serious business killer,” Pierson remarked.

Public speakers, including the applicant and the owner of the property, spoke in defense of opening the shop, stating that the attorneys’ interpretation is unjust, and the intent is that medical marijuana cannot be sold from the same tenant space where alcohol, tobacco or food are consumed.

“Are we just robots that can’t figure it out, or can we figure it out?” applicant Stephen Braverman asked commissioners. “We can, that’s why we’re given intellect and we can use it in this case.”

However, a 3-2 majority of commissioners ultimately decided they could not change the wording, despite what intent may have been. 

“I think this is a good example of unintended consequences,” said Chairman David Brotman, adding, “I think that’s why it’s so important to look at laws before just willy-nilly passing them.”

Dissenting votes came from Commissioners John Mazza and Pierson.

“I just want to point out that we’re voting exactly the opposite of how we were last time,” Mazza said, referring to the commission’s vote at the Nov. 17 meeting.

Monday’s decision came one month after the City Council voted to approve a pot shop to open upstairs in the building home to Zuma Jay’s Surf Shop. Malibu’s ordinance allows for a maximum of two medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits.