Venezia’s View: Santa Ana Medical Pot Initiative Could be Headed to Court and Spur Recalls

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My last column peeking into the politics of medical marijuana Measure BB in Santa Ana had some in the city crying foul.

Santa Ana’s Planning and Building Department Interim Executive Director Karen Haluza, contacted me saying what I wrote about her meeting with Kandice Hawes, Director of the Orange County National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws- NORML, wasn’t how she remembered it.

To give you some background, Hawes had told me she’d met with Haluza.

She felt the city reached out to her, as the new measure moved forward, to possibly include additional ideas that would make the measure more user friendly for patients.

Prior to this Hawes says, “Different people on council wouldn’t work with us”.

Haluza took exception to Hawes’ interpretation of their meeting and its intent.

“We had asked for the meeting in an effort to involve her in our outreach efforts given that she had been a spokesperson for Measure CC and would have a useful contact network that could be used to communicate with those who might be interested in participating in the collective application process. We did not ever imply that any process would be used other than that approved by the voters in Measure BB, nor did I state that I would be trying to “sell” any changes to the Measure to the Council. I said only that we wanted to involve Kandice and her constituents in order to reach as broad an audience as possible,” Haluza wrote in her email to me.

So I called her.

There’s obviously a difference between Hawes’ perception of the meeting’s purpose, and Haluza’s.

Haluza told me it’s a regular practice of the planning department to reach out to the community whenever a new project or new code is being worked on. This outreach is strictly for informative and educational purposes, not to create policy changes.

“When Measure BB passed we asked to talk to her to make her aware of what the city would be doing, and get the word out to her constituents. I did say we wanted to get her involved in the process and provide us feedback,” she says.

So if the city isn’t going to make any of the policy changes Hawes suggests, why the heck do they want her feedback in the first place?

“We have to develop application forms and we want them to be understandable for the public– the feedback would help us make those forms clearer,” she told me.

Next I called Hawes to get her take on what Haluza said.

“She’s talking out of two sides of her mouth,” replied Hawes, adding she wasn’t surprised there was a difference of perception here.

Hawes, who says her only motivation is looking out for the welfare of patients, says during the campaign the city’s measure was touted to voters as a better choice because it had flexibility.

“That was part of their whole sell during the campaign, that they can make amendments,” she said.

Up to this point, Hawes categorizes the whole process dealing with the city as, “ugly.”

She tells me the group that campaigned for Measure CC is now considering legal options including suing the city, and starting a re-call of council member Vince Sarmiento and Mayor Pro Tem Sal Tinajero.

Hawes feels both “mislead the public” as they pushed voters towards measure BB.

Yikes!

Shortly after I hung up from Hawes, Tinajero called me describing himself as the “front person” regarding this marijuana initiated.

He praised Hawes.

“Honestly she should claim some victory here. It was her work to bring in signatures for her measure which prompted the city to create theirs,” he said.

He also explained one aspect as to why the city created its own measure.

Tinajero says that when folks outside government create a something like this, they’re not privy to salaries or city budgets.

“The city knows exactly how much money it will bring in- and cost -so you can create something efficient,” he said.

Then he gave me a little behind the scenes history as Measure BB was being created.

“Prior to Measure BB we met with Kandice and several dispensaries owners and we were working out details. What we were trying to do was create something everyone would be happy with. I felt we were about 90% there and then Kandice and some other folks decided to do their own measure,” he tells me.

Hawes says her measure actually qualified in 2012 so she’s not sure what Tinajero is talking about here. Her group attempted to work with the city then -and this time too- all to no avail.

Tinajero says the city’s measure did incorporate some of their suggestions, but in no way would he support making changes now without first implementing Measure BB and seeing how it works first.

“The voters have spoken and this is the direction they want us to go. Residents can purchase medicine in safe locations and they made it clear they wanted it away from schools and parks,” he said.

So what about Hawes claims the city measure was sold to the public based on its amendment flexibility?

He says amendments are for the future as this marijuana movement changes from medicinal to recreational.

Tinajero is hearing legislative rumbles that in 2016 voters will most likely get the opportunity to approve recreational use, and says polling shows voters are in favor of this.

“We want to be the city that other cities look to as we create responsible ordinances that will allow for marijuana sales to occur, and prepare them for what I believe will inevitably be recreational use,” he says.

Tinajero is also reaching out to neighboring cities in hopes they will follow Santa Ana’s lead here. He recently attended a city council meeting in Costa Mesa where they too are grappling with creating a medical marijuana initiative.

The cannabis saga in Santa Ana is far from over, and I suspect neither is the war of words.

To follow the city on this issue visit their website.

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