Police ask to Propose Guidelines
Laguna Beach voters will decide if they want legal medical-marijuana shops in town on November’s general election ballot, the City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday.
An initiative calling for the public’s vote, validated by the Orange County Registrar’s office, challenges the city’s seven-year ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. The council had the choice of either accepting the initiative as is, which would overturn an existing city ordinance and allow two regulated dispensaries, or allow voters to decide.
The council decided to place the initiative on the November ballot, and now intends to consider competing initiatives that would regulate dispensaries by their own rules. They may also consider another initiative asking voters to support the existing dispensary ban. The council must finalize its measures in May for them to appear on the November ballot, said City Clerk Lisette Chel.
Police Chief Laura Farinella asked to propose regulations for operating the dispensaries and a possible competing measure. She will make her suggestions at the council’s May 10 meeting.
Farinella will refer to already-established guidelines in cities such as Santa Ana and Los Angeles because the language in the voter-propelled initiative does not follow city protocols, she said.
Her report will look at the “pitfalls” as well as the benefits of the guidelines listed in the initiative for regulating the dispensaries, she said, which include safety, policing and location standards and how to apply for or revoke a business license.
“I understand that it may not be perfect in the way you desire, but this is the initiative that the voters brought to you,” said initiative organizer Debbie Tharp of Visalia, the only member of the public commenting on this issue. “One out of four people in this city signed this initiative. They want this.”
The petition carried 3,912 signatures with 2,414 validated as registered Laguna Beach voters by the OC Registrar of Voters. That number exceeds 15 percent of the city’s 15,298 registered voters, a percentage required to validate an initiative and for it to be put to a vote.
Tharp’s husband was diagnosed with kidney disease 10 years ago and survived the nausea and weight loss of dialysis by taking marijuana, she said in an interview Wednesday. Tharp bought marijuana illegally then, which was dangerous, she said. Her husband gained weight, was able to stop using prescribed narcotics and underwent an organ transplant with her kidney, said Tharp.
Tharp said she has collected signatures for medical marijuana dispensary initiatives in cities across the state and has been arrested more than once, including in Costa Mesa.
But council members weren’t ready to accept the initiative carte blanche. “We certainly aren’t a cookie-cutter city and take somebody else’s language and make it law,” said council member Toni Iseman, a proponent of allowing medical marijuana delivery in the city. “This isn’t about a drug issue. This is about local control…before it gets to November, we will have had discussions about how Laguna wants to do what we’re going to do.”
Council member Rob Zur Schmiede said he’s not a fan of initiatives. “I think it results in the crafting of sloppy law,” he said.
The council denied medical marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach in 2009 and recently debated a ban on delivery services within city limits. In 1996, California voters passed Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act, allowing people with certain health conditions to use and grow marijuana as a medical treatment. Laguna Beach voters approved the measure by 71 percent while statewide approval was 56 percent.
Regardless of whether the council proposes its own marijuana-dispensary ballot measure, voters will confront other similar measures in the November election, such as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. If approved, the measure would legalize the recreational use of pot and impose a 15 percent sales tax on purchases at medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure is backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The measure would also give city governments the authority to regulate commercial non-medical marijuana businesses and medical marijuana dispensaries, Kohn said. If voters approve the Adult Use of Marijuana initiative, it will allow anyone over 21 years old to possess and use pot for recreational purposes.