The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night approved a three-year contract for legal fees related to lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Measure BB, last year’s voter-approved initiative to legalize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.

Council members unanimously approved the resolution, which authorizes up to $500,000 in legal services from the municipal law firm Richards, Watson and Gershon.

Of the total amount, $80,000 would come out of this year’s City Attorney’s Office budget. The rest will be budgeted in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez was concerned about general fund dollars going toward defending the city’s marijuana policy, rather than dedicated revenues from fees and business taxes generated by the dispensaries themselves.

So far, seven lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of Measure BB, which allows a limited number of dispensaries, selected by lottery, to operate in certain designated industrial zones.

City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said $370,000 in revenue from medical marijuana fees could go toward funding the litigation, and believes there will be enough future marijuana revenue to fund the remaining costs.

“We expect this litigation to be expected..and go up to the Court of Appeals. It could be another two, three, four years before it sees a resolution,” said Carvalho. “I think half a million dollars is a low estimate.”

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento reminded the council that the legal challenges were anticipated.

“I think this is part of [the cost of] doing business and introducing a new industry into the city that is going to generate more revenue, much more than half a million dollars,” Sarmiento said. “Let’s not get sticker shock.”

Contact Thy Vo at and follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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