A proposed Santa Ana ballot measure to tax and regulate marijuana dispensaries has been delayed after City Council members proposed a flurry of changes at their regular meeting this week. 

With dozens of shops potentially competing for an estimated 12 to 24 city permits to sell marijuana – alongside another proposed ballot measure to relax city campaign finance restrictions – ethics experts say the environment could be ripe for a windfall of campaign contributions and undue influence.

The city’s measure – which would restrict pot shops to industrial zones and have distance requirements from things like schools, parks and other marijuana sellers — is an alternative to a dispensaries-backed initiative that would allow a larger number of collectives to operate in the city.

Voters citywide would have the opportunity to choose one of the two ordinances in the November election. Currently, all marijuana dispensaries are considered illegal businesses under city law. City officials say they’ve counted over 50 collectives. 

Councilwoman Michele Martinez this week said legalization at all levels of government is on the horizon, and the city needs to be prepared.

“It’s coming,” Martinez said, adding that she was most concerned with a law enforcement plan to tackle dispensaries not allowed by the potential ballot measure. “As a local municipality, we have to realize that we have to protect our neighborhoods.” 

But first council members need to approve the city’s measure for the ballot.

After hours of public testimony and council discussion Tuesday night, the city manager and city attorney were apparently confused about the council’s direction on proposed changes to the measure and whether a law enforcement plan would be for the immediate future, or after the measure goes into effect.

At one point, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho asked if she needed to propose seven different ordinances for the seven-member council. She retracted her remark as “silly” and a result of the late hour after being admonished by Councilman Vincent Sarmiento.

City Manager David Cavazos replied that it would be difficult to come up with a law enforcement plan for a changing situation one to two years in the future. Martinez replied that, with some 20 officers being hired now and the months of required training, officials needed to craft a plan now.

Toward the end of the discussion, some clarity emerged on key points council members want to see added to the measure.

Mayor Miguel Pulido said he wanted to see the distance requirement between dispensaries – which at first was 1,000 ft. – be shrunk to 500 ft. That would allow for an estimated 24 shops to open and likely produce more tax revenue for the city.

The previous cap was 12 dispensaries, with over $1 million in expected city revenue. That money would be directed toward enforcing the law against illegal shops. Pulido asked that, with possibly more allowable shops, a $2 million enforcement plan be drawn up.

The enforcement plans are expected to come back to council as a separate discussion item at the next meeting early July.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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