Council to take action on marijuana initiative
July 09, 2012
Katherine Poythress, San Diego Union-TribuneThe Imperial Beach City Council is poised to act July 18 on a petition to lift the city’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Within a three-month window this spring, more than 10 percent of the city’s 10,000 registered voters signed a petition to vote on the Safe Access Ordinance of Imperial Beach, which would reinstate and regulate dispensaries. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters recently issued a memo verifying that at least 1,012 of the 1,574 signatures submitted are valid.
The office stopped counting signatures when it had verified the minimum number required to qualify the ordinance for an election ballot.
The City Council is expected to receive the verified signatures officially at its July 18 meeting and decide on next steps. Council members could vote immediately on whether to put the safe access law on the books, or they could vote on when to submit it to voters as a ballot item. If they decide to put the question to voters, it would make the most sense to include it in this year’s general election, advocates say, because that election has the highest turnout and will cost the city the least amount of money.
But backers for the Safe Access Ordinance fear the council will postpone putting the initiative on ballots, costing the city more money and delaying an opportunity for residents to have their voices heard.
If the City Council votes to go ahead and put the ordinance on the ballot in November, it will cost the city about $10,000. If the council instead assigns city staff to conduct an impact study, it could cause the city to miss the Aug. 10 deadline for submitting measures to be included in the fall election. The city would then have to hold a special election, at an estimated cost of $200,000.
“It’s a loophole that the city has,” said Eugene Davidovich, a member of the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access, which co-sponsored the initiative with grass roots organization Canvass for a Cause.
“This is going to be on the ballot no matter what, by law,” he said. “The people of I.B. will get to vote on it no matter what. The petition process is the most respected in the law, because it’s a way for people to have their voices heard, and that’s why the city doesn’t have a choice. The issue is the cost. It simply costs less to put these things on the ballot during a general election.”
The ordinance would overturn the City Council’s decision last year to ban medical marijuana facilities in lieu of developing zoning and regulations for safe access.
The community development director said at the time that it would be virtually impossible for Imperial Beach to apply the same laws adopted by other communities who regulate medical marijuana. If dispensaries were permitted no closer than 600 feet from schools, churches and parks, and 500 feet from residences, there would be no sites available in the city’s general commercial zone, he said.
The June 15 ban argued that two stores just outside the city limits were sufficient to provide patients with enough legal access to medical marijuana to comply with California’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act. Since then, a federal campaign to shut down dispensaries across the state has succeeded in shuttering one of those stores, and the other operates only intermittently.
City Manager Gary Brown said this year that even if council members or voters approve the Safe Access Ordinance, federal law still prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries. He fears that a city law allowing them would invite a host of legal problems from the federal government.
Local supporters of medical marijuana dispensaries say 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.
“It’s hard not to take it a little bit personally,” said Vey Linville, 51, who suffers from emphysema and says he would not be alive today had he not had access to medical cannabis five years ago when he was first diagnosed.
“I was, quite frankly, dying,” he said.
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 also would 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.
Mayor Jim Janney said that the council will need to know the implications of enacting this ordinance at some point.
“Whether it be in November or soon after that, the petitioners have a right to get this on the ballot, but we have a responsibility to the community to do our due diligence and do everything proper,” Janney said.