Huntington Beach could see legal cannabis shops pop up in the city after November if voters decide to legalize and tax the shops 

It also depends on if city council members put the question on the ballot to allow dispensaries this upcoming general election. 

Last week, Huntington Beach City Council members voted 5-2 to direct city staff to come back with ballot measure language later this summer.

The move comes after a failed measure during the June primary election that would’ve created a tax, but not the shops.

Some city council members said city voters could likely choose to legalize the shops – along with a special tax on them –  because the June measure nearly passed when it got 64.6% of the vote. That measure needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. 

“I think that with 65% — effectively two in three people effectively saying, ‘Yes, we agree to a tax’ and 50% several years ago — I think that likely [the residents] will vote to allow commercial cannabis in Huntington Beach,” Councilmember Dan Kalmick said at the meeting

Councilmembers Erik Peterson and Mike Posey were the dissenting votes. Posey said he is against new taxes and weary of the social cost of bringing cannabis business to Huntington Beach.

“I can see that the train has left the station here, and I’m probably going to be an outlier and maybe an anachronistic dinosaur, but I’m okay with that,” Posey said. “I was a no vote the first time around on the city-proposed general tax measure that went on the ballot, and I’m consistent in that opposition.”

Peterson and Council member Kim Carr said they want to limit the number of shops in the city to five — half of the proposed amount — and emphasized the importance of local ownership of the potential shops.

A subcommittee to discuss allowing cannabis shops in the city consists of Kalmick, Peterson and Council member Rhonda Bolton. The subcommittee has met throughout the year and hosted a town hall to gain resident feedback.

Carr and Council member Natalie Moser said that much more public input is needed to figure out all the details.

“I think it’s important that we have more study sessions and more town halls to let the community know and provide more input,” Carr said. “One town hall I don’t think is enough.”

Grace Yoon-Taylor from the city manager’s office said there was a lot of confusion regarding the previous ballot measure’s wording and intent. 

The measure would have created a tax on cannabis businesses, even though the shops are illegal in the city. The measure would not have made the shops legal.

[Read: Are Cannabis Shops Coming to Huntington Beach? Voters to Decide on a Special Tax in June]

“I did receive a lot of calls and some walk-in residents and local business owners asking, ‘I’m really confused because of the Measure A questions. Are we voting on allowing [cannabis] businesses?’” Yoon-Taylor said. “I explained that in case the city council allows it, there will be tax rates already established.”

However, this measure would look slightly different from the previous one.

If passed, November’s measure would allow up to 10 cannabis business permits in the city and implement a special business tax.

[Read: 2022 Primary Election Night Results: HB, Newport Beach and Westminster Ballot Measures]

It’s a question that has been posed and welcomed by some Orange County voters in recent years, generating new sources of tax revenue for cities that have legalized such shops and could potentially do the same in Huntington Beach.

Voters in nearby cities have already allowed taxed retail cannabis to operate within their borders including Santa Ana and Costa Mesa in recent years.

In Santa Ana, cannabis revenues are helping pay for new library services through a “public benefit fund,” which helps bolster youth activities and parks. It also helps pay for regulation enforcement on the cannabis shops. 

[Read: Cannabis Sales Are Paying for New Public Library Services in Santa Ana]

Other cities like Mission Viejo shut down cannabis discussions, saying the businesses don’t align with the city’s values.

Two organizations previously filed cannabis petitions requesting that the city prepare documents allowing their proposed regulations to be placed before the voters of Huntington Beach for consideration

These initiative measures were created without city or public input, but they did not end up moving forward with signature collection.

In turn, city officials began discussing how to best bring cannabis businesses to the city after seeing these local petitions fail. 

The discussion also comes after a high-level Democratic political consultant allegedly tried bribing Irvine City Council members for favorable cannabis legislation, according to an FBI affidavit.

Melahat Rafiei — who advised OC Democrats like Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan as well as cannabis businesses — publicly confirmed her involvement in the FBI corruption investigation into Anaheim City Hall and former Mayor Harry Sidhu.

[Read: Key Witness for FBI Anaheim Probe Disputes Feds’ Account That She Was Arrested Before Cooperating]

One speaker at the council meeting raised concerns about the issue.

“Sadly, given the relationship that [Councilmembers] Kalmick, Carr and Moser have with the recently arrested Melahat Rafiei, your political consultant, in her criminal activities surrounding the cannabis industry, I think perhaps rather than y’all putting this on a ballot measure, you should be under investigation from the FBI with your friend Melahat,” Huntington Beach resident Cari Swan said at the meeting.

The affidavit states Rafiei was arrested, but she disputes that allegation and says she was detained instead.

Huntington Beach city officials are planning to host additional community forums to gather resident feedback before the next meeting.

Yoon-Taylor said that in order to get the measure on the November ballot, it would need to be finalized by August 12.

Council also gave staff direction on a number of policy points for potential cannabis businesses, including operation hours, buffer zones, local residency preferences and location.

“I don’t think anyone is under the dream that we are going to get this right out of the gate, but we have tried our best,” Kalmick said.

The item will return to council for a final vote to place the measure on the ballot, and the council will continue to discuss specific details regarding the cannabis ordinances.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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