Laguna Beach voters will certainly see two, and perhaps as many as four, competing medicinal marijuana measures on the November general election ballot as a result of the City Council’s action Tuesday.
Amid a threat of a lawsuit by proponents of a pot dispensary initiative, the council asked the city staff to return with two proposed measures to compete with the voter-initiative, which, if approved, would establish two dispensaries in town and a specific system to determine who will run them.
Council member Rob Zur Schmiede called the voter-initiative “a sloppy piece of legislation.”
“If this particular thing were to pass, it will be very devastating to this community,” council member Toni Iseman said. “…whoever spent the money to get the signatures is going to be the guy who gets the dispensary.”
The petition-driven initiative, which qualified in April for the November election ballot, was sponsored by locals Corey Aufhammer and Elizabeth Toomey.
The council asked the staff to draft at least two proposed competing measures for review at its June 14 meeting. Mayor Steve Dicterow recused himself from the discussion due to a possible conflict of interest issue with a potential client.
The first measure calls for one dispensary, stricter guidelines on operator qualifications and location as well as a suggested sales tax. It would be based on a report given by police Officer Jessie Schmidt.
The second option requested by the council would support the current ordinance banning pot dispensaries altogether.
More proposed measures are possible, said City Attorney Phil Kohn. Each measure the city adds will cost $8,000, Kohn confirmed.
Council member Bob Whalen asked why the police department supported a city measure allowing a dispensary rather than an outright ban. Enough residents have expressed interest in access to medicinal marijuana as evidenced by the voter-driven initiative, said Police Chief Laura Farinella.
“They are looking for a place in our city. They don’t want to travel to Santa Ana to go get medicinal marijuana,” Farinella said. Newport Beach, Irvine, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Aliso Viejo and Costa Mesa all ban marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and delivery services, Schmidt reported.
“I think we should all recognize that this is about money, it’s not about medicine,” said resident Matt Lawson, who supports the current ban. Medical marijuana is already legal as a prescription drug, he said.
Charnel James, an attorney from Marysville, said the council is doing a disservice to patients in town who need the convenience of a local dispensary. “To completely disregard your own patients’ requests and your own citizens’ directive is not only disingenuous, but you are failing to represent your own constituents,” she said.
The police-proposed measure or a measure supporting a ban on dispensaries fails to provide a viable alternative to disabled veterans, who now buy off the street, James claimed. “I’ll advise my clients to sue your city then,” she said, when her request to summarize was denied because her time-limit at the podium expired.
Both the police department report and the voter-initiative say a dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of another dispensary or a public or private K-12 school. The police report recommends including pre-schools and day-care centers, parks and smoke shops. They both say the dispensary cannot be located on property abutting or across from homes or near beach access points.
The city report recommends allowing the dispensary in retail districts but not industrial areas. Proposed streets for a dispensary include North Coast Highway north of Aster Street, central Laguna Beach, Brooks and Diamond streets as well as Fifth Street in south Laguna, Schmidt said.
The voter-proposed initiative offers one dispensary for every 10,000 residents, which would establish two based on Laguna’s population of 23,500. It would also allow the purchase of recreational marijuana if a statewide measure proposing its legalization wins voter approval in November, the most disconcerting aspect of the voter-initiative, Schmidt said. A measure legalizing full recreational use will also be on the November ballot.
No matter how many measures regarding medical marijuana dispensaries are on the ballot, voters can vote on all of them, Kohn said. The one with the most votes prevails and, if there’s a three-way tie, default goes to the city’s ordinance banning dispensaries, in effect since 2009, he said.
A pot dispensary would make Laguna an unwanted magnet for offering the only dispensary in the area, Zur Schmiede said.
“If the cities surrounding us block all the dispensaries and we don’t allow delivery, then what we’re doing is sending our citizens into perhaps an unsavory neighborhood in either north Orange County or L.A. County,” responded Iseman, who supports a delivery service. “If we have a 10 percent tax on it, I suspect that would hire three new police officers. The revenue that would be generated by this I understand is substantial.”
The law allows for delivery under the rules for qualified caregivers, said Farinella, who must also provide domestic help for the patient. The city has until Aug. 12 for the measures to qualify for the ballot.