ENCINITAS — Encinitas was poised to do one of two things on Oct. 18: become the first North County city to allow farmers to cultivate cannabis or follow suit with other North County cities and ban all commercial cannabis activities.
The City Council took a different path, voting 4-1 to send the question of whether to allow marijuana cultivation and limited manufacturing to voters on the November 2018 ballot, and also voted to ban all commercial cannabis activities during the interim.
After several rounds of public hearings on the topic and passionate commentary over the past few months, the council majority said they believed they still were not clear as to what the will of the people was.
Voters in Encinitas overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 64, which will legalize recreational cannabis use in January. But voters also rejected a city measure to allow for medicinal cannabis dispensaries in 2014.
“So with that lack of clarity of what 64 really meant to our voters, I … think we should take this back to the people,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, after enumerating the various issues the city has brought to voters over the years.
“I think it is perfectly reasonable to bring this to the voters and ask ‘what say they?’” Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz said.
Councilman Mark Muir vehemently opposed the cultivation proposal and opposed placing it on the ballot.
“I see no benefit, I can’t see a benefit,” Muir said.
The question of whether the city should allow growers to cultivate cannabis has been a polarizing topic for nearly a year, after the council announced in February it would create a subcommittee to explore the possibility.
The Oct. 18 council meeting mirrored the numerous public hearings and workshops held on the topic over the past 10 months, but on a much larger scale: more than 300 people attended the meeting, with around 100 people signing up to speak on the topic.
People on both sides urged the council to side with their stances, with a majority of them speaking against cannabis cultivation.
Supporters of cannabis said the city would be honoring the its agricultural heritage by allowing farmers to grow a potentially lucrative crop, which would allow the city’s flagging agricultural sector to once again thrive.
At the center of the support is Bob Echter, president of Dramm and Echter, the city’s largest remaining flower grower. Echter has proposed growing cannabis on a small portion on the northern edge of his property off of Quail Gardens Drive and Leucadia Boulevard, which he said would allow for his business to continue and offset increased costs including rising wages and water costs.
Echter said that allowing his business and other farmers to grow cannabis would be a boon to the city, though Muir pointed out that the city would not collect point-of-sales tax on the cultivation because the crop would be sold outside of the city.
One group of cannabis activists had planned to collect signatures to force a measure on the ballot that would have allowed cultivation, dispensaries and delivery, but the group rescinded it the day before the Oct. 18 meeting.
Opponents donned red ribbons in honor of “Red Ribbon Week,” a nationwide youth drug prevention program, and had paddles emblazoned with the city logo with a cannabis leaf blocked out with a “no” symbol. They argued that growing the crop would subject adjacent communities to odor, public safety and nuisance issues and would send a message to the city’s youth that cannabis was acceptable.
“Marijuana stinks,” said Hugh Christiansen, a local resident. “Stinking marijuana more likely than not will result of erosion of urban property values in the city of Encinitas.”
Several speakers urged the council not to take the lead on the issue of cannabis and leave it to the state and larger cities to figure it out.
“We are poking at a beehive,” Jason Yarbrough said. “It is rife with controversy. Are we going to jump into this both feet first? Play it safe.”
Some opponents said that the city should not be helping Echter and others to stay in business.
“That one company should know that manure happens,” Olivenhain resident Bill Butler said. “If it didn’t … we would still be buying our DVDs from Blockbuster.”
The city’s elected leaders have been equally divided on the issue: the two-member subcommittee created to bring the council forth a recommended ordinance stalemated on the subject. Councilman Tony Kranz supported cannabis cultivation, while Councilman Joe Mosca supported a ban on all cannabis activities short of medicinal cannabis deliveries.
Mosca said that he could not keep the issue from going before voters because he felt voters should have the right to weigh in on the topic, despite his reservations about having cultivation and other cannabis activities in the city.
The freshman councilman was adamant, however, that the city pass an interim prohibition that would bar the state from issuing licenses to cannabis related businesses beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
The council majority agreed, and directed staff to return with an interim ban.
The council also opposed calling for a special election, which would cost the city at least $300,000, instead putting the item on the general election ballot, which costs less and will attract more voters.
Cities across San Diego County are grappling with the issue of what cannabis-related activities to allow in the wake of the 2016 passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized recreational cannabis use and on Jan. 1, 2018, will allow the sale and taxation of cannabis.
The law defers to individual jurisdiction, however, on issues such as growing, cultivating, processing and delivery services.
Carlsbad in September banned all commercial cannabis activities and in San Marcos, the Planning Commission on Oct. 9 recommended the council adopt a similar ban to Carlsbad. Other North County cities have also taken up similar bans.