VISTA — The roll-out of Vista’s Measure Z, which legalizes the selling of medical marijuana, has proven anything but smooth in its first two months on the books.
The turbulence started on Dec. 21, 2018, after Vista City Manager Patrick Johnson published an implementation memorandum outlining how Measure Z would manifest itself in the months ahead. Critics of the city’s handling of the controversial ordinance say they believe the city has improperly taken things into its own hands.
The biggest source of contention involves a lottery system for applicants to open cannabis storefronts in the city, as opposed to the first-come, first-served guarantees outlined in Measure Z.
One of those lawsuits, filed on behalf of Manuel Migueles Collective by San Diego attorney Michael Cindrich, alleges that Vista officials went above and beyond the mandate of Measure Z in implementing a lottery.
“The measure that was voted on by the people and passed by them, did not include any language which would permit the city to utilize a lottery process to accept these applications,” Cindrich told The Coast News. “And Vista decides to come in and come up with their own system, which ultimately is a lottery and it’s our position that the language and the system Vista created goes against the language and intent of the ordinance.”
Others decried the zoning ordinances in the city manager’s implementation memorandum, cordoning off many areas of the city for medical marijuana dispensaries under the banner of “sensitive uses.”
“The purpose of this regulation is to identify sensitive uses and separation requirements between those uses and medical cannabis businesses,” according to the memorandum. “It further provides for tools to assist the public in determining the location of those uses as well as potential locations for medical cannabis businesses.”
Measure Z does not include language regulating “sensitive uses,” which is defined as areas with child care centers, public parks, elementary schools and preschools and other youth-trafficked areas.
Former Vista City Councilman Cody Campbell said he believes that some city officials have purposely made the process difficult, subverting the will of a majority of citizens who voted in favor of commercial marijuana legalization.
“If they wanted to make this simpler for local people to get into the business, they would not have made it difficult as it’s been so far,” said Campbell, who campaigned for the pro-Measure Z group Vistans for Safe Community Access during the 2018 election cycle. “The simplest answer is the city will do anything and everything they can to undermine the process. I think their hostility towards cannabis will continue on and on and on in an ongoing basis until, either the city staff that are currently there that have some sort of personal vendetta against cannabis are gone, or the City Council steps up and fulfills its role as representative of the voters.”
Campbell also pointed out that in the city’s implementation memorandum, a few of the children-centric businesses and establishments listed as off-limits beyond the legal setback limit of 1,000 feet actually have wrong addresses listed.
Those include Linda Rhoades Park and Recreation Center (incorrect address), Glowzone (no longer in business) and the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Anti-Poverty of San Diego (no longer in Vista), according to a review done by The Coast News.
Nippon Sports Center came off the list after the city discovered it no longer did business there.
The implementation memorandum’s strongly resembles Measure BB, the ordinance struck down by voters in 2018 which called for “three delivery-only medical marijuana retailers and two testing facilities in the city.”
Measure BB, proposed by the city’s conservative majority, required 1,000-foot setbacks near youth-oriented frequented locales.
“It does not permit storefront marijuana stores in our downtown, in areas inhabited by families, or in close proximity to schools, areas where youth congregate, in parks, or near homeless shelters,” wrote conservative Vista Mayor Judy Ritter, and fellow conservative City Council members John Franklin and Amanda Rigby in an analysis penned in favor of Measure BB prior to the November election. “It stands in marked contrast to Proposition Z which permits all of these things.”
Campbell pointed to the vote tally on Measure BB — 14,346 “no” votes to 12,430 “yes” — as another example of city officials operating against voters’ wishes when it comes to Measure BB and Measure Z.
“It’s not that the people didn’t understand the differences because that one’s spelled out very clearly … And that’s not what the voters wanted,” Campbell said. “(The city of Vista) decided to go ahead and implement it the way they would’ve done it if their measure had passed.”
In response to questions about the “sensitive uses” language, Assistant City Manager Aly Zimmermann said, “Due to pending litigation against the city, we cannot comment on Measure Z questions at this time.”
City Attorney Darold Pieper also said he could not comment on the specifics of the Measure Z rollout.
Corinna Contreras, the council’s newest member, said she believes that much of this could have been avoided had the city tackled the issue head-on before the 2018 election.
“With the data afforded to the public and the council, the desire of Vistans was clear; they wanted well-regulated retail storefronts,” she said. “A pre-Measure BB survey conducted by the city of Vista with a cost of almost $35,000 illustrated overwhelming support for retail storefronts within the city,” she said. “It was an unfortunate missed opportunity. We as a city could have proposed a balanced approach with limited storefronts and a well-defined selection process, all written in strong unambiguous language.”