Costa Mesa Council Rejects Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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The Costa Mesa city council Tuesday night rejected a last-minute November ballot proposal that would have regulated medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries.

The ballot initiative, proposed by Councilman Gary Monahan, failed to win support from any of the other four council members and his motion to put the issue on the city’s ballot died for lack of a second. Items for the November ballot are due to the County Registrar of Voters this Friday.

Monahan said his proposal was an attempt to put the city ahead of the medical marijuana issue, in light of two Costa Mesa citizen-sponsored initiatives that are gathering signatures to go on the ballot, either in November or at a later election. He said those plans don’t give the city enough control.

Both citizen groups said they would drop their initiatives if the city placed its own medical marijuana plan on the November ballot.

“I believe this is the way of the future. Two years from now, it looks like we’re going to go recreational. When the wave hits, we can be ready and ready to go,” said Monahan. “It’s about operational control and regulations. There are a lot of people who have a need for medicinal marijuana. And this will provide them with something close, convenient and safe.”

But councilmembers felt the issue was too complicated to hash out in one meeting without time to examine the ordinance at a study session. The ordinance was drafted by the city attorney’s office but was not vetted by the police department or analyzed for other impacts.

“I think there are a lot of loose ends and I’d prefer to have more time and a study session,” said councilmember Wendy Leece.

Absent more direction from the state, Mayor Jim Righeimer said the city doesn’t have the expertise to regulate medical marijuana appropriately.

“When I look at these guidelines that recommend we establish testing standards — as a city, we’re supposed to put that out? Standards and controls for labeling?” Righeimer said. “So here we are with people from all over the county coming to say, ‘hey, help us out.’ It should be in Walgreens. I just don’t know how we even set this up without 10 or 15 employees.”

Monahan’s ballot plan would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate on a nonprofit basis in the city, as long as they complied with a long list of rules including security, maintenance of written records, background checks, odor, edibles, labeling, 24-hour security cameras, and more. Although it did not put a cap on the number of dispensaries in the city, the location of dispensaries was limited to 1,000 feet from each another and from schools.

Most of the 22 people who commented at the public hearing were in favor of the ordinance, many speaking of their own difficulty finding appropriate treatment for pain, seizures and other illnesses.

Advocates at the meeting also praised Monahan’s ballot proposal for its thoroughness and urged the council not to fixate on perfection, given a clause that allows the council to amend the ordinance at a later date.

Councilmembers indicated an interest in drafting an ordinance at a later date. But Monahan said the citizen groups backing the two ballot measures wouldn’t wait for the city to draft an ordinance.

“I thought [the council’s ordinance] was fantastic,” said Randall Longwith, author of one of the citizen-backed initiatives and chair of the Orange County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, based in Yorba Linda. “Had they gone forward we wouldn’t have turned our signatures in. But now I guess this will go to a special election.”

This is not Costa Mesa’s first taste of marijuana issues; in 2012, the city sought federal assistance in shutting down dispensaries, which triggered a torrent of criticism from medical marijuana patients in the city.

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