Marijuana initiative appears headed to ballot

June 07, 2012

Katherine Poythress, San Diego Union-Tribune

Early results indicate more than 15 percent of registered voters in Imperial Beach have signed a petition that would allow residents to vote on whether to repeal the city’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Safe Access Ordinance of Imperial Beach proposes overturning the City Council’s decision last year to ban the facilities.

Local supporters of medical marijuana dispensaries say that Imperial Beach’s ban is the most restrictive of all cities in San Diego County, because it prohibits even those with medical licenses from keeping their own plants.

The six-page ordinance is crafted to ensure “that seriously ill Californians and residents of the city of Imperial Beach can obtain and use cannabis for medical purposes where that medical use has been deemed appropriate by a physician in accordance with California law,” according to the document.

The measure would allow patients to smoke inside a dispensary if certain requirements are met, and allow the shops to operate from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The ordinance would also not allow the stores to be within 600 feet of a school or 300 feet of another dispensary. It does not include any special fees to help offset the cost of regulation and enforcement.

“Strong regulations like the ones we’re proposing would keep medical cannabis away from children and schools, and create a safe means for those who are qualified, to have safe, reliable, local access to that medicine,” said Eugene Davidovich, a local member of Americans for Safe Access, which co-sponsored the initiative with Canvass for a Cause. “At the same time, we’re taking into strong consideration the concerns of the neighborhood.”

The initiative garnered more than 2,600 signatures, 1,555 of which appear to qualify under petition regulations requiring them to belong to registered voters, Davidovich said. He turned the signatures in to the city clerk Friday.

“It was truly a community effort,” he said of the signature drive, which cost about $4,000. “We didn’t hire an outside signature-gathering firm. This was volunteer activists, along with a few paid folks. A lot of the folks that went out there to just about every street in I.B. were patients, some of whom are terminal patients.”

City Manager Gary Brown said earlier this year that if enough signatures are collected and verified, the City Council could decide whether to adopt the ordinance outright or put the question to voters. City officials did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The measure could qualify for a special election under state law if enough signatures are verified by the county Registrar of Voters in the coming weeks. But the repeal proposal could still be placed on ballots in November to save the city the expense of holding a special election.

If the number of verified signatures drops below 15 percent of the 10,000 registered voters, Davidovich said, the city would have the option to postpone a vote by first conducting a months-long impact study before placing it on ballots in the next regularly scheduled election.

Supporters have been working hard to get this issue on the November ballot, he added, because more voters are likely to turn out in a presidential election year.

“We want every voice in I.B. heard, we want every resident to come out and vote on this issue,” he said. “Truly, our intent is not to force the city to hold a special election, but to show how much support there is and show that this is something the voters want down here.”

A November ballot measure could cost about $60,000 for Imperial Beach, which has about 26,000 residents.

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