SOLANA BEACH — Solana Beach residents will decide in the Nov. 6 election whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in their city.
But as is the case in adjacent Del Mar, even if the initiative passes, there’s no guarantee it will become law.
The Patient Care Association of California, a nonprofit organization of medical cannabis collectives, gathered the required number of signatures — 508, or 10 percent of register voters — to qualify for the November ballot a citizens’ initiative aimed at regulating medical marijuana compassionate use dispensaries.
Election laws prohibit council members from making any changes to the document, which has been described by some as flawed.
As written, the proposed new law would allow dispensaries to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. At least one security guard, who could be a member of the collective with a card from the Department of Consumer Affairs, must be on duty during operating hours.
Security cameras, an alarm system and proper lighting would be required. Marijuana and any food containing it could not be consumed onsite. Alcohol would not be allowed on the premises.
No one younger than 18 could be given medical marijuana unless that person is a qualified patient accompanied by a parent or legal guardian who provides proof of guardianship and signs a statement confirming that status.
Evaluations to receive medical cannabis cannot be conducted onsite.
Dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of each other and must be in nonresidential zones. They also cannot operate within a 600-foot radius of a kindergarten through 12th-grade school or playground unless those facilities begin operating after the dispensary has received its business license.
The city can only be compensated for cost-recovery fees but it will receive a 2.5 percent sales tax in addition to other state and local taxes. That amount will be reduced to 1 percent if the state begins imposing a tax on medical marijuana.
City Attorney Johanna Canlas said some of the legal issues with the initiative include the possibility of it being pre-empted by state and federal laws and potential inconsistency with California’s Compassionate Use Act. Review by the California Coastal Commission may also be required because of zoning changes, she said.
“It’s clear — as clear as it can be — depending on all the legal court challenges that (have) happened that some regulation or restriction on medical marijuana dispensaries are permitted,” Canlas said.
The California Supreme Court recently granted review on two cases regarding medical marijuana. The court rulings on those cases will likely impact whether local governments are pre-empted under the Compassionate Use Act, passed in 1996, to regulate these types of businesses.
“What’s clear is that it appears to violate the limitations on local sales and transaction taxes,” she said. “The petition, as submitted, appears to put obstacles for enforcement of federal law.”
Given all the unknowns, City Council can provide a post-election challenge if the initiative passes and “more likely than not it will be litigated in the courts,” Canlas said.
More than two dozen people weighed in during the public comment period, with opinions nearly evenly split between those who support allowing the dispensaries and those who oppose them.
Cancer patients, chronic pain sufferers and a 19-year-old with Tourette syndrome credited medical marijuana for easing their suffering. Parents, health care workers and representatives from antidrug groups feared the dispensaries would provide youths with increased access to the drug and send the message that marijuana isn’t harmful.
“I’ve undergone multiple surgeries, including a bilateral mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy,” said Tamara Green, a 39-year-old Solana Beach resident with stage four breast cancer.
“Besides losing my hair three times, I also suffered with chronic pain, nausea, a poor appetite, osteoporosis, numbness in my fingers and toes, a compromised immune system and gangrene,” she said. “Both the disease and the cure have had equally poor outcomes until medical marijuana.”
“I do have great compassion for those who are in pain,” said Evelyn Hogan, a parent and 25-year drug and alcohol counselor.
“I also happen to have a son that … went into a doctor — I guess you would call them a doctor — and came out with a recommendation for marijuana for an ingrown toenail. He then proceeded two weeks later to get into a car crash that almost killed him.”
“I urge you to please, let us have our medicine,” said Steve Hirsch, a 58-year-old man with Legionnaire’s disease.
“The plastic medical vials that the dispensaries put the medicine in are showing up on our high school campuses and … the parks at our elementary schools,” said Barbara Gordon, from the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth. “What sick person would go to the park to use their medicine and leave the empty medicine bottle behind?”
“The issue before us tonight is really not to debate the pros or the cons of the validity of the use of medical marijuana,” Councilman Tom Campbell said.
Faced with the citizens’ initiative, council members had three choices. They could place the initiative on the ballot, which they unanimously agreed to do at the July 25 meeting, or adopt the proposed ordinance as written.
They also could have ordered a report that would have had to be returned within 30 days, at which point they would have had the same two options.
Had they done that, the report would have been received too late to be placed on the November ballot. That could have forced a special election, estimated to cost $225,000 rather than the $5,000 to $9,000 to include it in the upcoming general election.
An identical initiative was presented to Del Mar in June. Council members in that city ordered a report, which Solana Beach officials studied. Canlas prepared a similar report for the July 25 meeting in anticipation of the initiative being presented.
All five Del Mar council members voiced opposition to the dispensaries before voting July 18 to place the initiative on the November ballot.
“My personal feelings are not relevant,” Campbell said. Mayor Joe Kellejian was the only Solana Beach council member to share his opinion.
“I will be working with every resource I have to oppose … putting medical marijuana facilities here in Solana Beach,” Kellejian said.