No Competing Marijuana Measure for Imperial Beach

August 08, 2012

Katherine Poythress, San Diego Union-Tribune

The Imperial Beach City Council voted 3-2 Aug. 1 against a city-prepared ballot measure that would have competed in the November election with a citizen-drafted measure to repeal the city’s ban on large-scale medical marijuana dispensaries.

Council members voted 4-1 on July 18 to put the Safe Access Ordinance of Imperial Beach on the ballot in response to a petition containing more than 1,000 residents’ signatures, but Councilman Edward Spriggs suggested that the city also draft its own alternative measure to allow and regulate dispensaries.

A subcommittee consisting of Spriggs, Councilman Brian Bilbray, the city attorney and city manager went to work on the city’s answer to a proposal that some city leaders feel may be inadequate and too lenient.

The result was a 12-page proposal that would have allowed only one medical marijuana collective in the city, and located only in the city’s primary commercial district. Furthermore, the subcommittee proposed prohibiting the dispensary from cultivating marijuana on-site, requiring the collective to have an on-site security guard, and prohibiting the consumption or smoking of pot on the premises.

The city’s proposal, unlike the Safe Access Ordinance, also included a component that would have allowed Imperial Beach to recover its regulation and enforcement costs. Much of it was modeled after a combination of San Diego County’s medical marijuana access law and Imperial Beach’s ordinance for adult entertainment establishments, said City Attorney Jennifer Lyon.

But the hastily prepared measure failed to garner approval after Safe Access proponents raised concerns about it not allowing small-scale collectives. Current city law allows collectives of three or fewer people to grow and consume medical marijuana, but this would have repealed that exception. They also took issue with the fact that the city’s proposal might pose a catch-22 for dispensary owners and members, who would not be allowed to cultivate on-site at the collective.

“This is just simply not an ordinance to regulate safe access,” said Eugene Davidovich, a member of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, which sponsored the citizen-led initiative. “It’s a ban. It’s an outright ban.”

Davidovich also scolded the council for publishing the proposed alternative only one day before the council meeting. Members of the public did not have sufficient time to examine it and consult with legal experts, he claimed.

Opponents to the Safe Access Ordinance reminded the council that federal law still regards marijuana as an illegal substance with no exception for medical uses, and said they were distressed that the city tried getting involved at all in developing marijuana policy.

A recent federal crackdown on dispensaries across the state has cities worried about the legal snafus that could come with passing local laws that accommodate them.

“We appreciate your effort, but philosophically, legalization is something we must oppose,” said Lorenzo Higley, a spokesman for the El Cajon-based Communities Against Substance Abuse.

Davidovich called all the talk about federal enforcement a “scare tactic.”

Bilbray and Councilman Jim King maintained that the council should continue working on its alternative plan and patch up some of the problems for a final vote before the Friday deadline to get it on ballots. But Mayor Jim Janney said he regretted the amount of time and city resources that had already been spent on an ordinance he feels is unnecessary.

“I am not in favor of a competing initiative,” he said. “I think our current law is the right law, and I believe there are enough problems with the citizen-drafted one. I think a decent opposition statement to it would clarify things for people, and I’m not going to support spending any more time on this.”

Spriggs ended up voting against the measure he had first proposed putting together, along with Janney and Councilwoman Lorie Bragg.

Imperial Beach resident and Safe Access advocate Marcus Boyd said the council’s decision was unexpected.

“Again the council surprised by listening to advocates and not accepting the poison pill that was this competing initiative,” he said.

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