Medical Pot Initiative Still Not Finalized

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An initiative that would make Laguna Beach the only location for a medical marijuana dispensary in south Orange County will come up for consideration again in a special City Council meeting Monday, Aug. 8, in an urgent move by city officials to finalize a November ballot measure.

The decision by the council Tuesday gives the city nine working days to further refine the measure, refiguring buffer areas around a dispensary location, adding more detailed requirements relevant to license revocation and to possibly work out a compromise with an attorney for a competing dispensary initiative. Orange County Registrar’s Office must receive the finalized initiative by Aug. 12 for inclusion on the November ballot.

In a surprise move, attorney Charnel James, who represents the competing petition-driven initiative, told the council she would be willing to withdraw the initiative if she could assist the city in consolidating the two measures.

“This is probably going to shock you guys, but my constituents have actually looked through this ordinance…if you’re willing to work with us on making the changes, we actually would back down from our ordinance and either help defeat it or help to get it removed off the ballot,” James said.

Laguna banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2009. The council is being forced to address the issue due to the petition-driven initiative asking voters to repeal the ban. There are 69 storefront dispensaries in Orange County, according to a webmaps.com listing on the internet.

Mayor Steve Dicterow recused himself from the discussion due to a potential conflict with a client.

City Attorney Phil Kohn said he needed to check the California Elections Code to determine if provisions allow proponents to withdraw a qualified ballot measure.

According to the Elections Code, proponents may remove an initiative eligible for the ballot up to 131 days before the election. The 131-day qualification deadline for the Nov. 8 general election was June 30, the Secretary of State’s office said in a June 23 announcement regarding another withdrawal.

The city’s yet-to-be-finalized initiative and the petition-driven one differ in significant ways. The latter would allow two medical marijuana dispensaries in town with few restrictions on the potential locations or operators. James, who specializes in land use and code enforcement litigation in Marysville, Calif., said she represents Laguna Beach residents who want a dispensary in town. Laguna Beach residents Corey Charlson Aufhammer and Elizabeth A. Tommey are listed as sponsors of the initiative.

“Before our last meeting, I said, ‘This is going to be like the only liquor store in south Orange County’,” said Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman to illustrate potential traffic and parking problems.

James disagreed with the ballot’s description of the petition-driven measure, saying it lacked the detail listed in the ballot description for the city’s measure. She was given time by the council to rewrite the 75-word-limit description.

The city-sponsored measure, authored by Police Chief Laura Farinella, would allow but one dispensary and limit its location to within 1,000 feet of residences, parks, schools, daycare or youth-oriented facilities or within 500 feet of beach access.

The restrictions, however, eliminated most of the city, a map prepared by the police department showed. The only eligible locations for a dispensary would be the inland side of Coast Highway and the ocean side of Glenneyre Street between Park Avenue and Calliope Street, Community Development Director Greg Pfost confirmed.

“I don’t like this map,” council member Rob Zur Schmiede said, calling the dispensaries a crime magnet. “The only place in town you can get it is in my neighborhood. I don’t want it in Laguna.”

Council member Bob Whalen considered the entire town the wrong location. “I just don’t think we’re in the right location for it. We’ve got so many geographic constraints,” he said, saying his strategy is to encourage voters to vote no on both initiatives, eliminating all dispensaries. “You don’t want them here in Laguna,” he said.

“I don’t want it here either,” said council member Kelly Boyd, not disputing the medical benefits to some patients. A survey of residents earlier this year showed opinion was evenly split on medical marijuana dispensaries. FM3, the company that conducted the survey, said “you probably won’t win that one,” Whalen reported.

Zur Schmiede said he’d rally school and community groups to oppose the dispensary measures.

Farinella recommended eliminating the 1,000-foot buffer to residences and, instead, prohibiting dispensaries from abutting or being located across the street from homes. She also suggested reducing the beach access buffer to 250 feet. The city will look into allowing a dispensary in light industrial zones in Laguna Canyon that do not abut residences. “In Laguna, most of the commercial areas abut residential areas,” Pfost said.

The petition-driven initiative also differed in that it did not prohibit dispensaries near parks or beach access and would allow the sale of recreational marijuana if a statewide initiative legalizing adult use passes in November. The city-sponsored initiative would prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana at medicinal dispensaries.

Iseman proposed making the dispensary a showroom with product displays where customers would order the type of medicinal cannabis they needed for later delivery with no carry-out of the product at the storefront. Her suggestion will be considered in reworking the initiative, said City Manager John Pietig.

James told the council parking issues could be eliminated with a second dispensary, which would spread out the traffic. The petition-driven initiative would allow two dispensaries, one for every 10,000 residents. Erik Chan, who described himself as a medicinal marijuana consultant, told the council his former shop in Brea saw a maximum of 250 customers a day who spent 15 to 20 minutes purchasing product. “It is hard to get into Laguna Beach,” he said, saying that Santa Ana dispensaries are easier to access.

City staff will rework location boundaries in the council-sponsored measure, adjust the wording and explore the possibility of collaborating with James, Pietig confirmed.

In 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act allowing personal use and cultivation of marijuana for medical reasons with a physician-distributed medical marijuana card. The current law allows an individual to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and cultivate either six mature or 12 immature plants.

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