Don’t Expect OC to Become Amsterdam, Regardless of Prop. 19 Outcome

A coffee shop/pot cafe in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Don't expect these to be popping up all over Orange County, regardless of whether voters pass Proposition 19. (Photo credit: Paul Ames/Global Post)

A coffee shop/pot cafe in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Don't expect these to be popping up all over Orange County, regardless of whether voters pass Proposition 19. (Photo credit: Paul Ames/Global Post)

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010| Regardless of what California voters decide on Election Day regarding the legal status of marijuana, don’t expect the streets of Orange County to start looking like those of pot-friendly locales like Amsterdam.

If voters pass Proposition 19, it will be legal under state law for people to carry up to one ounce of marijuana, and individual jurisdictions will have the opportunity to loosen laws on the sale of the drug.

Yet interviews with a sampling of elected officials in the county reveal apprehension over the prospect of relaxed marijuana laws. In fact, several officials — especially those running for this year’s election — don’t even want to talk about it.

“I don’t think, frankly, elected officials have taken a good look at the law,” Tustin Mayor Jerry Amante said. “I don’t think you’re going to find many cities that are going to encourage the sale of marijuana.”

Polls on Proposition 19 have been all over the place in recent months, with support going as high as 52 percent and as low as 39 percent. The most recent polls show the initiative trailing, but one group backing the measure says it has evidence that some people who support the measure won’t admit it to pollsters.

If Proposition 19 passes, local governments throughout the state will have the option to allow the sale of marijuana and to tax it. Governments would have a range of regulation options, including allowing large farms or limiting sales to pot cafes and shops.

But to make it legal, the local jurisdictions would have to take a specific action, whether by a voter-approved initiative or an ordinance approved by a city council or board of supervisors. And Orange County officials interviewed by Voice of OC seem inclined not to take action.

Not one elected official interviewed — from Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Irvine, Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, and the county Board of Supervisors — would say, or would admit, that he or she supports allowing businesses to sell marijuana.

Said Mission Viejo Councilman Frank Ury: “Quite honestly, we haven’t looked at it,”

San Juan Capistrano Mayor Londres Uso, who is running for re-election to council, said he would be willing to mull it over. “If Prop. 19 passes and people are going to be growing and buying and smoking marijuana anyway — and we have an opportunity to get some revenue — it would be irresponsible for me not to consider it,” he said.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said the initiative is written in a way that’s too vague for him to feel comfortable voting to allow businesses to sell it. He said the fact that local governments can tax it at any rate they want would mean some counties would lose pot business to other counties.

“If it were to be a revenue source, you’d sort of want to have an even playing field,” Moorlach said.

But Moorlach and the Board of Supervisors are taking a proactive stance on the initiative. Moorlach said county Chief Executive Tom Mauk was given instructions to plan for the initiative, should it pass, and report to the board Nov. 9.

Ultimately, Moorlach said, the county would look at what other counties in the state are doing and set policy from there.

Other officials took a more defiant stance on marijuana sales in their cities.

Anaheim Councilman Harry Sidhu, who is running for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, said his city would not override federal law and allow a business to sell marijuana.

“Federal law overrides any other state laws,” Sidhu said.

Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang said he strongly opposes the initiative and would not vote to allow businesses to sell marijuana. Kang said that although it could bring in revenue, Irvine residents would be too concerned with public safety and other quality-of-life issues.

“We can have cleaner revenue by promoting businesses — attracting businesses. It doesn’t have to be that particular revenue generated,” Kang said.

All that apprehension and hostility toward allowing businesses to sell pot is OK with Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, co-chair of the Proposition 19 legal subcommittee.

If would be fine, she said, if the only change in Orange County was that police wouldn’t be caught up busting pot smokers.

“Orange County is free to go about its business and redirect resources to unsolved violent crimes,” Dershowitz said.

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