ENCINITAS — Encinitas voters will not just be electing the city’s first elected mayor on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Voters will also decide whether the city should allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within the city limits.
Measure F would repeal the city’s ban on so-called “pot shops” and instead create a set of regulations for them and tax marijuana sales.
Proponents of the ballot measure started collecting signatures for the ballot initiative two years ago, but did not make the deadline for the 2012 election, when similar ballot measures failed in Solana Beach and Del Mar.
Proponents argue that the measure is necessary to provide patients safe access to medically prescribed marijuana. Opponents counter that the measure will make Encinitas “the pot destination for North County” and, among other things, create a drug supply that will be illegally diverted to the city’s youth population.
Measure F, according to the city’s ballot information, would prohibit dispensaries within a 600-foot radius of schools or playgrounds, require shops to have security cameras alarms, safety lighting, secured marijuana storage and licensed security personnel on site during business hours, and restrict business hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and bar alcohol from being solid or consumed on site.
Proponents said the measure meets the need of medical patients who require the analgesic properties of marijuana as well as a new revenue stream for city coffers.
“Patients who need safe and consistent access for severe medical needs are going to have the opportunity to get the medication they need,” said James Schmachtenberger, chairman of the Patient Care Association and a member of the Citizens for Patients Rights advocacy group. “It will bring the city new revenue and serve to reduce crime.”
Schmactenberger said studies have shown that crime rates in cities with marijuana dispensaries is lower than those without them, largely due to the reduction of crime associated with illegal drug trafficking.
“When you factor in all of the transactions that happen at a storefront, those aren’t occurring on the black market,” he said. “So on the whole, you see an overall reduction of crime.
Opponents argue the converse. They said that the typical dispensary customer is not the sick, but young men from ages 20 to 35, which they said they have gathered from thousands of hours of observation at dispensaries throughout the county.
They also attract crime, opponents said, citing crime data from San Diego that they say indicates that census tracts with a storefront have twice as many property and violent crimes as tracts that don’t have them.
“Marijuana storefronts have been crime magnets because they have ready cash and an easy product to steal,” opponents wrote in the statement of opposition that will appear in the sample ballot.
Scott Chipman, a San Diego anti-drug activist who has fought against the proliferation of dispensaries in throughout the city and is part of the coalition opposing the measure, called dispensaries “a lawless industry.”
“To believe that this industry is going to follow regulations is a joke,” Chipman said.
Opponents said the linchpin of their argument is limiting the access of marijuana to youth.
“In a nutshell, if becomes permissible for our youth to use marijuana because the youth will say, ‘Well, if the city allows it, than it is OK,’” said Nancy Logan, a local resident and vocal opponent of the measure. “When accessibility goes up, the perception of harm goes down.”
Schmachtenberger, however, believes dispensaries would reduce the access of marijuana to teens, again because of the reduction of black-market activity.
“The drug dealer on the corner doesn’t care if his customer is 50 or 16,” Schmactenberger said. “That doesn’t happen in a regulated environment. If someone wants to keep their license, they are never going to make an exception.”
Encinitas’ division over the medical marijuana issue mirrors that of statewide, as municipalities have grappled with how to regulate medical marijuana — or regulate it at all — since voters legalized it in 1996. While legal in California and several other states, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, which makes its distribution illegal under federal law.