Mayor’s Minute: Pot cultivation, not storefronts, on ballot for Encinitas voters in ’18

After many weeks of passionate testimony regarding marijuana regulations in the city, the Encinitas City Council decided to send the issue to Encinitas voters in the November 2018 election.

The City Council is not considering allowing any shopfronts, called “marijuana dispensaries” within city limits. We are considering the growing of marijuana, called “commercial cultivation” inside a fully enclosed greenhouse, and only in the agriculturally zoned area of our city. The commercial greenhouse Dramm & Echter has officially requested the opportunity to switch from growing gerberas, lilies and roses to growing marijuana as a small percentage of their total crop. The city has a total of five agriculturally zoned properties, all in the Encinitas Ranch area. The other four properties, including the Leichtag foundation located on the site of the former Ecke Ranch, have not indicated any interest in growing marijuana.

Our farming community is an important element of our city’s identity. I’d like our remaining agricultural heritage to survive, and to do so, we’ve been repeatedly reminded that growers need to adapt by being able to raise any legal crop.

Just for clarification, many of the greenhouses scattered around the city have an underlying zoning of “residential,” not “agricultural”, which means that those greenhouses wouldn’t be allowed to grow marijuana.  Sometime in the future, the land with those greenhouses could sprout more houses, but not weed.

In the meantime, the City Council is planning to maintain the status quo, which is a temporary ban on all marijuana activities – dispensaries, growing, manufacturing and delivery – until the voters weigh in at the fall 2018 election.

In making the decision to send this issue to the voters, it’s worth noting that Encinitas residents passed Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana at the last election by the highest margin in the county, with 65 percent. However, after listening to several weeks of intense public testimony, it’s clear that the specific issue of cultivation within city boundaries remains hotly contested.

As part of my own investigation of this issue, I visited the first medically permitted marijuana business in the county, in an unincorporated area of the county near El Cajon. They grow 750 plants, and have a small storefront that sells medical marijuana supplies like teas, tinctures and lotions, but no edibles.

My overall impression of the business was that it was professional, sterile and secure. The plants were grown under lights, in a highly controlled environment with air conditioning and odor control. From the outside, you wouldn’t have had any idea what was being grown inside the warehouse. And it did not have a seedy or run-down feeling. In fact it seemed classy, even hip.

Marijuana is a hot-button issue everywhere, not just Encinitas. I personally voted against Prop. 64, largely because I didn’t think we needed more ways to be impaired. However, the voters clearly favored more access to marijuana for recreational and medical reasons. Encinitas voters have collectively spoken strongly in favor of easier access to marijuana.

Because California voters have legalized recreational marijuana, a decision to prohibit agriculturally zoned greenhouses from growing it will have no effect on the overall market – recreational marijuana will still be legally consumed in Encinitas.

Many people spoke to us about the messages we’re sending to our youth. I think it’s useful to look to Napa, where wineries grow grapes. Other geographic areas specialize in hops as an agricultural crop. Growing plants that become alcohol has not led to any increase in the number of youth drinking in those areas. Similarly, I don’t believe that growing marijuana inside a greenhouse, especially when it can’t be seen or smelled from outside, is going to have any effect on the number of youth who use marijuana.

It goes without saying that nobody is in favor of youth access to marijuana (or alcohol). Young people choose to use marijuana, alcohol or cigarettes based on many factors, but I don’t believe a discreet local greenhouse would have any effect on that choice. The debate about whether normalization of this drug – which happens when it’s legalized — is okay or problematic was decided by voters last November.

I’ll continue to keep you updated on the specifics of this contentious issue as we develop the language for this ballot initiative. 

Catherine S. Blakespear serves as Encinitas’ directly elected mayor. She writes a monthly column in the Coast News about important city issues. She can be reached at cblakespear@encinitasca.gov with any questions or comments.

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