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Advocates plan initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Oceanside
An initiative drive planned in Oceanside is aimed at forcing the city to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, even though the City Council has repeatedly banned them.
Two medical marijuana advocates, Amber and David Newman, said they plan to write an initiative and collect signatures on a petition to put a measure on the Oceanside ballot in 2018.
A similar petition now circulating in nearby Vista has already collected thousands of signatures, and could force a measure on that city’s ballot later this year.
California first legalized medicinal marijuana 10 years ago, but gave municipalities the power to regulate cannabis sales within their boundaries. Many cities — including all in North County — have opted to ban dispensaries that sell pot, citing public safety concerns.
In November, state voters approved Proposition 64, allowing the use and distribution of recreational marijuana with many of the same controls as the medical marijuana rules. The momentum from that measure and the growing power of the cannabis industry has led to a new push to force cities to allow pot sales.
“We want to give patients access to safe, affordable, lab-tested medicine and we want to keep children and neighborhoods safe by moving cannabis off the streets and into a regulated market that can be monitored,” said David Newman, who with his wife owns a medical marijuana nursery where they grow plants that they sell to patients through a nonprofit organization called A Soothing Seed.
In the coming weeks, the pair said, they’ll launch a political action committee to begin collecting the money they will need to fund the Oceanside campaign, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Newmans said they plan to model their initiative after a similar one passed in Long Beach in the Nov. 8 election. That measure allows dispensaries to open and imposes a city tax of 6 percent. San Diego — which had already passed a law allowing limited medical marijuana dispensaries — passed another measure in November regulating recreational pot sales.
Under the Newmans’ proposal, Oceanside could perhaps have 10 dispensaries, depending on the city’s population — one for every 18,000 residents. It would also allow marijuana growing and laboratory testing operations.
The measure would set a city tax rate of 6 percent of annual gross marijuana sales. Cultivation operations would have an annual tax of $10 per square foot of growing area. All marijuana related businesses would have a to pay a minimum annual tax of $1,000 to the city.
The Newmans said they plan to hold community meetings and gather input on their proposal to gain support for their effort.
“We’re going to go grassroots, we’re going to take our time,” Newman said. “We’re going to work with the city. We’re going to work with the people of the city.”
To get the measure on the ballot, organizers would have to collect signatures from 10 percent of voters registered in Oceanside, City Clerk Zack Beck said. That’s roughly 8,761 signatures, based on the 87,612 voters currently registered in the city, according to the county Registrar of Voters.
Organizers say they realize that getting the initiative approved will not be easy. They said they plan to lobby city and elected officials to get their support.
Mayor Jim Wood said he’s skeptical about allowing dispensaries to open.
“As an ex-police officer, I can’t recommend it,” Wood said, pointing out that marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law.
Several cities in Southern California voted on marijuana-related measures during the recent election with varying degrees of success.
San Diego voters overwhelmingly approved Measure N, which imposes a 5 percent tax on non-medical marijuana businesses.
Voters in Costa Mesa approved Measure X, which allows medical marijuana businesses in some parts of the city. But Measure KK in Laguna Beach, which would have rescinded a ban on dispensaries, was soundly defeated.
In Vista, a group called Vistans for Better Community Access is collecting signatures to overturn that city’s ban on dispensaries. It would authorize a limited number of dispensaries and allow the city to license, regulate and tax them.
Organizers there said they want to collect 5,607 valid signatures, which is 15 percent of all registered voters in Vista. That’s enough to force the City Council to ether enact the measure outright or schedule a special election, expected to cost about $350,000.
Newman said he knows and has met with some of the people backing the Vista initiative. But he said the two are separate and “we are not looking to affect anyone else’s efforts.”
“We do wish them the best of luck and will be following their progress closely,” Newman said.
The Newmans said they don’t want force Oceanside to hold an expensive special election, which could cost about $500,000.
Despite Oceanside’s history of strict policies against pot shops, the Newmans say they believe they can get support from some city leaders and a majority of the city’s voters.
Earlier this year, several council members said they were moved by the testimonies of medical marijuana patients who spoke during meeting about how the drug had helped them with various illnesses.
At that time, the council voted to allow medical marijuana delivery services to operate in the city if they registered with the city’s police department and met certain criteria.
Councilman Chuck Lowery said recently that he wants to see the Newmans’ plan before he decides whether to support it, but said he’s sympathetic to their cause.
“The difference in medical marijuana and recreational is significant,” Lowery said “I share (their) concerns regarding the availability of medical marijuana for those who need it for their personal conditions.”
A marijuana joint is rolled in San Francisco the day after California voters approved Proposition 64 legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Under the measure, some felony pot convictions can converted to misdemeanors.
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