Local voters will soon get used to hearing the words “Measure KK.” Proponents and opponents of the November ballot measure to open two medical marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach say they will make their points with anyone and everyone who will listen.
Both sides of the measure say they’re taking a grassroots approach to voters, though opponents appear to have a running start with some community meetings in the works.
The City Council voted against a counter initiative to oppose a referendum that seeks voter approval to establish two dispensaries in town.
The petition-driven referendum qualified for the ballot in April with 2,414 signatures validated as registered Laguna Beach voters by the OC Registrar of Voters. That number exceeds the 15 percent required of the city’s 15,298 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
Council members vowed to convince Lagunans to vote down the initiative, saying it would increase traffic congestion and parking problems and burden police services. The council banned medical marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach in 2009.
Proponents of Measure KK say in-town dispensaries are what the people want. The measure was sponsored by Corey Charlson Aufhammer and Elizabeth A. Tommey, two Laguna residents. Their attorney, Charnel James, of Marysville, Calif., said that the initiative is a “safe access” issue.
“We don’t want some of our retired community having to drive, especially if they’re having problems with arthritis or other ailments, to areas in Santa Ana that they’re not familiar with,” she said Tuesday.
Opponents argue that Measure KK is not a local measure and is not what the people want.
“From my perspective, it’s not really about medical marijuana or providing local access,” said Tad Heitmann, a spokesperson for a newly formed resident committee, Together Laguna Can Defeat Measure KK.
“KK is not a Laguna Beach initiative,” he said. “There was no local input from citizens, the city, medical professionals or law enforcement. This measure was imposed on us from the outside. The interests behind it are outside business interests. Except for the people whose names are on it, nobody here had anything to do with it.”
Paid petitioners gathered signatures from residents, showing up at busy places like local grocery and natural food stores, pharmacies and the farmers’ market. James said a growing number of residents are ready to promote passage of the referendum. She said she would ask other proponents to contact the Indy. No calls or emails were received by press time.
Overturning the seven-year local ban will minimize criminal activity and open a new tax-revenue stream, James said.
Another issue on the November ballot, the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act, proposes legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
The six-person citizens’ committee held its first meeting earlier in August with 25 invited representatives from key groups in town, Heitmann said. “It doesn’t matter whether you use marijuana medically or recreationally or you don’t even know what it is. Measure KK is bad for you,” he said.
Committee member Amy Kramer, also a member of the fundraising group Schoolpower, asked school board members this week to adopt a resolution opposing the dispensaries initiative.
Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the village character of Laguna Beach, said the committee approached her for an endorsement. “I’m sure that’s the way we’re leaning,” said Felder, who will query the organization’s board and members in September.
The citizens’ committee maintains that dispensaries proposed in the referendum go beyond the needs of bonafide medical patients and will operate without local regulatory controls, Heitmann said.
“These dispensaries will turn into retail marijuana dealerships overnight,” said Heitmann, if recreational marijuana use wins voter approval statewide. “None of that revenue will go to the city for any additional resources that will be needed to accommodate something like that. We are asking the citizens to vote no.”
Council member Rob Zur Schmiede, the only elected official on the committee, declined to comment for this article, suggesting other committee members as spokespeople.
Even though he has older friends who use medical marijuana, councilmember Kelly Boyd became surprisingly outspoken about opposing a local dispensary at the most recent council meeting. Boyd on Wednesday cited a familiar aphorism,“ ‘If you build it, they will come’.”
Boyd opposes local dispensaries not because he opposes medical marijuana usage. His friends have it delivered, he said. “I have no problem with that,” Boyd said. “The closest one is in Santa Ana. If we had one here, it would draw the wrong type of people. We don’t need to be the only one to have a dispensary in South Orange County.” Boyd said most of the people he’s talked to oppose a local dispensary.
Bruce Albert, an orthopedic surgeon in Newport Beach, agreed with Boyd. “People will swarm to that dispensary,” he said. “If Laguna thinks it has parking problems now…”
Most medical marijuana dispensaries are all-cash businesses since big banks and credit unions are currently prohibited by federal law from taking their money. “Having an all-cash business in other places has created public nuisances, crime, violence. You go up to Santa and you see this,” Heitmann said.
Santa Ana is known for unlicensed pot shops and has dedicated a police task force to enforce regulations.
A driving factor to lessen the punishment for marijuana possession starting in 2011 with SB 1449 was overcrowded prisons, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The trend towards decriminalizing cannabis started in Colorado in 1973. There are now 23 states that allow medical marijuana use and four that also permit recreational use. In addition to California, voters in Nevada, Arizona and Massachusetts will also be given the option to legalize adult recreational use.
Last year, legalized marijuana sales hit $5.4 billion nationwide, according to Arcview Group, based in Oakland, which specializes in cannabis industry market research.